• Season 1 : Episode 4
  • First aired on April 12, 2005
  • Written by Michael Schur / Directed by Bryan Gordon
  • Recap by Linus
  • Discuss this episode at The Watercooler, and remember to submit your vote at OfficeTally.

ally (v.): 1297, from Old French alier, “combine, unite”, from a differentiated stem of alier (source of alloy), from Latin alligare, “bind to” (see alloy). The noun is 1598 in the sense of “united with another by treaty or league”, from the verb. — Online Etymology Dictionary

Faced with the possibility of layoffs as belts tighten around Dunder Mifflin, Dwight asks if Jim wants to form an alliance in an attempt to save their jobs. Jim’s response? “Absolutely I do.” As Jim and Pam conspire to turn Dwight’s desperation into their humor, Michael struggles to turn his own desperation into felicitations: He plans a very merry un-birthday for Meredith. When that fails, well, let’s just say that money heals a lot of wounds, especially those in Michael’s ego.

The Michael Scott School of Hard Knocks

Michael, when seeking praise and trying to divert attention from unhappy facts, can be a pretty blunt weapon with which to be beaten. Just ask Meredith. Or Pam. Or Dwight. Or Stanley. Or Oscar. Or . . .

[Michael discusses possible layoffs with the camera crew.]
Michael: It looks like there’s gonna be downsizing. And it’s part of my job, but, bleagh. I hate it. I think the main difference between me and Donald Trump is that I get no pleasure out of saying the words, “You’re fired.” [Donald Trump voice.] You’re fired. Uh. You’re fired. [Natural voice.] He just makes people sad, and an office can’t function that way. No way. “You’re fired.” I think if I had a catch phrase, it would be, “You’re hired, and you can work here as long as you want.” But that’s unrealistic, so . . .

You just keep thinkin’, Butch. That’s what you’re good at.

[Michael enters the conference room, where Angela, Pam, and Phyllis — the Party Planning Committee — prepare for Meredith’s kinda-sorta birthday party.]
Michael: These are my party planning beyotches. Pulled off an amazing 80s party last year. Off the hook! So, I was thinking, if you haven’t already gotten a cake, um, maybe going for one of those ice cream cakes from Baskin-Robbins. Those are very good, very delicious.
Angela: Meredith’s allergic to dairy, so . . .
Michael: She’s not the only one that’s gonna be eating it, right? I think everybody likes ice cream cake. It’s not, uh, not just about her, so –
Pam: It is her birthday –
Michael: Mint chocolate chip!

I think everybody in the office should chip in and get Michael some yak meat for his birthday, see how he feels about that. It’s not just about him, is it?

[Jim and Michael discuss Michael’s donation to Oscar’s nephew’s charity walk-a-thon.]
Jim: Very impressive, the donation you gave to Oscar’s charity. What was it, twenty-five bucks?
Michael: Yeah, well, I don’t know. Money isn’t everything, Jim. Not the key to happiness. You know what is? Joy. You should remember that. Maybe give more than three dollars next time.
Jim: Yeah, well, three dollars a mile’s gonna end up being like fifty bucks. God, I can’t even calculate what you’re gonna have to give.
Michael [comprehension dawning on his face]: Is Oscar around?
[Cut to a shot of Oscar and Michael in Michael’s office.]
Michael: I just thought it was kind of a flat, you know, twenty-five dollar, one-time donation. I didn’t think it was a per-mile kinda deal, you know, so . . .
Oscar: That’s what a walk-a-thon is. It says it right on the sheet. Look at the sheet, it says it’s however many dollars per mile.
Michael: Mmm hmm. Got it. Yes, so it does.
Oscar: I just think it’s kind of cheap to un-donate money to a charity.
Michael: No, no. I wasn’t — it’s — it’s not about the money. It’s the ethics of the thing, Oscar. How’s your nephew? Is he in good shape? How many miles did he do last year?
Oscar: Last year he walked eighteen miles.
Michael: Son of a bitch — that is impressive. Good for him.

I love it when Michael comes over all wise for a second, and manages to do the verbal equivalent of farting during a job interview. The fact that it is followed so immediately by craven greed (is he really trying to get his money back from children?) just makes it even better. This is a Michael Scott you can love to hate.

[Michael has ruined Meredith’s un-birthday by making bad jokes about layoffs.]
Michael: Hold on just a second, okay? I think we’re losing sight of what is really important here. And that is that we are a group of people who work together. I really wasn’t gonna flaunt this. I have made a very sizable donation to Oscar’s nephew’s walk-a-thon. Twenty-five dollars.
Oscar: Per mile.
Michael: Per mile, yes. [Cut to a talking head in Michael’s office.]
Michael: When I retire, I don’t want to just disappear to an island somewhere. I want to be the guy who gives everything back. . . . I want it to be like, “Hey, who donated that hospital wing that is saving so many lives?” “Um, I don’t know, it was anonymous.” “Well guess what? That was Michael Scott.” “But it was anonymous, how do you know?” “Because I’m him.”

It’s sort of become one of the staples of The Office that, at the end of many episodes, Michael sits at his desk and breaks it down for us. These breakdowns are usually idiotic, self-serving, and sometimes borderline delusional. This one falls into the “borderline delusional” category, and is a true classic of the genre.

So, how has Michael changed since “The Alliance”? Aside from the obvious thing — he weighs maybe twenty pounds less than he used to — this Michael, while recognizable as the same character as today’s Michael in his essentials, is not someone you feel much compassion for. He already has the desperate need for attention and praise, but the picture of Michael in “The Alliance” lacks the touch of sadness and innocence that the Michael Scott of, say, “Money” or “The Convention” has, the thing that keeps you from really hating his guts. All in all, this is a pretty biting portrayal of a genuine horse’s ass.

Dwight Being Dwight

Dwight’s paranoia and loose grip on reality sometimes combine to create a supernova of unbridled lunacy.

[Dwight looks on enviously as Jim, Toby, and Oscar converge around the watercooler.]
Dwight [in voiceover]: It’s a real shame, because studies have shown that more information gets passed through watercooler gossip than through official memos. Which puts me at a disadvantage because I bring my own water to work.

Dwight’s solution? Make the mountain come to you. Instead of leaving the water in the car . . . or just getting some from the cooler anyway . . . or just stopping to chat on his way to the bathroom . . . Dwight drags the watercooler over by his desk. That pretty much typifies Dwight’s approach to life.

[Dwight talks to the camera as we see Jim taping him into a box so he can “spy” on a conversation in the warehouse.]
Dwight: Can I trust Jim? I don’t know. Do I have a choice? No, frankly, I don’t. Will I trust Jim? Yes. Should I trust Jim? You tell me.

Dwight gets this look on his face when he feels like he’s proved some unassailable point, his “Gotcha!” look. He puts it on when he gets to “you tell me”. I wonder what he thinks has happened because of this nonsense he’s been spewing. What is it, Dwight, that I am supposed to have understood, other than that your view of reality is completely orthogonal to that of pretty much every other human on Earth?

[Dwight gives the post-mortem on the ugly ending to his alliance with Jim. At first, we see the aftermath of Jim’s confrontation with Roy.]
Dwight: Do I feel bad about betraying Jim? Not. At. All. That’s the game: convince him we’re in an alliance, get some information, throw him to the wolves. [Cut to Dwight, his hair bleached.] That’s politics, baby: get what you can out of someone, then crush them. I think Jim might have learned a very valuable lesson.

The best part about this is that Dwight thinks he’s winning.

It seems to me that Dwight is the most consistent character on the show, starting off as a humorless older brother character for our hero, Jim, and never really changing. Steps have been taken to make him more relatable — he does, after all, have emotions — but the Life of Dwight, aside from the Angela interlude, is pretty static: He’s sycophantic, he has a hard time with the line between fantasy and reality, he’s self-centered and self-impressed. In short, Dwight is the way he is for two reasons: One, he can’t imagine being any other way, and two, if he could be any other way he certainly wouldn’t want to be. As he told Jim in Money, “I am better than you ever have been or ever will be.”

The Many Faces of Jim

Ah, young Jim. There is so much I would like to tell you. But sadly, I cannot.

[Jim stands at the copier. Dwight approaches him.]
Dwight: Hey. So listen, I was thinking that it might be a good idea if you and I formed an alliance. Because of the downsizing. I think an alliance might be a good idea, you know. Help each other out. [Pause.] Do you want to form an alliance with me?
Jim: Absolutely I do.

Ah, yes. Aside from “that’s what she said”, “absolutely I do” may be the touchstone line of this series that is full of them. So why is that? What is it about “absolutely I do” that catches the imagination? Part of it is the repetition of it, and under the most extraordinary of circumstances: Years later, Pam thinks Jim is gone for good, and when Dwight comes to her for help, she uses this exact same line to agree. But why? I think because, on some level, this line is Jim: It represents the way he says “yes” to the child inside him, his flair for bringing little touches of color to the gray repetition of office life, his willingness to combat, in his small way, the solitude of our modern American white-collar existence. It’s more than that, too: For years, “absolutely I do” is what Jim wanted from Pam, what he imagined as her answer when he finally told all and asked, “Do you love me, too?” And then, after that moment, when Pam instead said, “I can’t,” she realized too late that “absolutely I do” was what she wantedshould have, needed to have said in that instance. I imagine, if Jim and Pam ever get married, one or the other of them might deliver this line, stripped of its irony, sincerely, in its baldest, most difficult, and most frightening sense: I take you, not just under these conditions, but with no exceptions, no reservations: absolutely.

Also, it could just be because it’s funny.

[Moments later, a talking head with Jim.]
Jim: At that moment I was just so happy. Everything that Dwight does annoys me. . . . And I spend hours thinking of ways to get back at him — but only in ways that would get me arrested — and then here he comes, and he says, “No, Jim, here’s a way.”

And that, right there, is Jim and Dwight in a nutshell. Dwight annoys the crap out of Jim, Jim waits for his opportunity, and then strikes.

[Jim and Pam, having already maneuvered Dwight into a box, now discuss Jim’s coup de grâce.]
Jim: Okay, I have something that totally tops the box.
Pam: Oh, tell me, tell me.
Jim: I have just convinced Dwight that he needs to go to Stamford and spy on our other branch. [Pam is in paroxysms of laughter.] No, no! But before he does so, I told him that he should dye his hair to go undercover. [By now, Pam is quite literally clinging to Jim to keep from losing it completely.] If we can get him to drive to Connecticut and put peroxide in his hair –
[Roy arrives and gets in Jim’s face.]
Roy: What the hell is this? What are you, trying to cop a feel or something, Halpert?
Jim [backing off]: No, dude, no –
Pam: Hey, hey!
Jim: Listen, woah — God, I don’t even know how to explain this. Uh, Dwight asked me to be in an alliance. And then, um, we’ve just been messing with him, because of the whole alliance thing.
Pam: It’s just office pranks.
Jim: It’s stupid. It’s just office pranks.
Roy [to Dwight]: An alliance? What the hell’s he talking about?
Dwight: I have absolutely no idea.

Jim’s a lover, not a fighter. That dynamic doesn’t work very well when the woman you love is with someone else. This whole scene is sort of Jim’s dilemma in a nutshell: He can have as much fun as he wants with Pam, but ultimately, when Roy shows up, that all ends, and the fun starts to feel illicit instead of thrilling.

Jim Halpert, how have we changed? I would count the ways, if I had time, but let’s cut to the chase here: The central drama of Jim’s life at the point of “The Alliance” is that he’s in love with someone else’s girlfriend. This is, along with his hatred of his job, the defining fact of his existence, and the two things play into one another: To escape the mundanities and injustices of working at Dunder Mifflin for a man like Michael Scott, Jim eats, drinks, and breathes Pam, all day, every day. Everything he does, even his pranks on Dwight, is sort of about Pam. Three years later, the boy has the girl, and that’s great, but he also still has much the same job. Other than temporary supervisory duties and a probably fairly minor pay raise, Jim’s position as Michael’s #2 isn’t radically different to what he had going on back in season one — and, despite the growing up he’s done (and it’s a lot — heartbreak teaches many lessons), he’s still essentially stuck at a boring job in a dying industry. So yeah, Jim may be less vicious to Dwight; he may be more willing to take responsibility; he may be much more likely to try to take care of Michael instead of taking the piss out of him; but, as they say, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Confessions of a Receptionist

Sometimes one gets the impression that Pam is sitting on a volcano of rage that’s dying to erupt.

[Pam, Phyllis, and Angela — the original, and much smaller, Party Planning Committee — plan Meredith’s un-birthday.]
Phyllis: I was just gonna say maybe we could have streamers, but that’s dumb, everybody has streamers. Nevermind.
Angela: No. Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. What color do you guys think?
Phyllis: Well, there’s green, blue, yellow, red.
Pam: How about green?
Angela: I think green is kind of whorish.
[Cut to Pam, solo, talking to the camera.]
Pam: This was tough. I suggested we flip a coin, but Angela said she doesn’t like to gamble. Of course by saying that, she was gambling that I wouldn’t smack her.

It would be a different show if Pam smacked Angela, but it would still be one I want to watch.

[Pam fakes a phone conversation — badly — for the benefit of Dwight, who has allowed Jim to tape him into a box for the purpose of spying.]
Pam: Hey, where are you? Yeah, we were supposed to meet here. What? Oh, my gosh! That ties in perfectly with something that Michael was telling me earlier! [A certain amount of activity from Dwight’s box.] I just don’t know what some of the people in, like, accounting are gonna do. It said specifically that — [Dwight’s box topples. Pam runs off, giggling.]

One of the interesting things about Pam is that, despite her buttoned-down wallflower aspect, she seems to get a large charge out of transgression and troublemaking. Sure, she’ll write “Hey Meredith, you’re the best” on a birthday card, and everybody will think she’s sweet, but from the obvious thrill she gets from screwing with Dwight to a barefoot walk over hot coals, she has always seemed most alive when taking risks, or getting others to. Remember how giddy she was when Jim convinced her to talk over the supermarket’s PA system?

On the subject of change and Pam Beesly, it’s hard to know where to begin. One can see the roots of today’s Pam in her pranks here, but the fact is that the Pam of season four is a different character than the Pam of . . . well, ever before. She’s more assertive, more confident, she dresses more nicely, and her hair — well, it may not be better, but it’s different. She’s no longer shy or retiring, she’s less sarcastic and more confrontational. I’m not saying this doesn’t make a certain amount of sense, but without straying too far off topic, I have to say that today’s Pam doesn’t feel earned by yesterday’s Pam. The third season, as Greg Daniels said in interviews, was supposed to be largely about Pam’s growth as a character, her coming into her own and re-earning Jim’s love. Unfortunately, it was a complete failure on that front. There was no real process — Pam was depressed, Pam was shy, Pam was downtrodden, and then one day she did a coal walk, and voila, we had a new character. It would have been a lot of fun to see the Pam of “The Alliance” — clearly a cool girl, but with a lot of bottled-up anger and a domineering heel of a boyfriend — turn into the Pam of season four. Unfortunately, that transition appears to have happened over the summer hiatus.

The Jim/Pam Index

The long story arc that really began when Pam fell asleep on Jim’s shoulder in Diversity Day and came to its climax when Jim said “I want to be more than that” on Casino Night is definitely ratcheted up a notch in “The Alliance”.

[Pam and Jim, at reception, discuss their golden opportunity.]
Pam: An alliance?
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Pam: What does that even mean?
Jim: I think it has something to do with Survivor, but I’m not sure. Um, I know that it involves spying on people, and we may build a fort in accounting.

The Jim and Pam plot in this episode is really about the two of them getting a little too familiar with one another given their current romantic status — I mean, Roy’s a jerk, but if I came into a room and saw my girlfriend hanging all over some guy the way Pam was with Jim at the end of the episode, I’d be upset, too. You can’t see it in the words, here, but this is already beginning in this scene, in their body language: Jim’s dashing, arm-across-the-counter slouch, Pam’s hair-in-her-eyes laughter and bashful looks toward the ground, the way they’re leaning together, the absolute concentration with which they’re focusing on one another — this scene, inconsequential as it seems, is very sexual, in its own way.

[Pam and Jim stage a conversation for Dwight’s benefit.]
Pam: Hey, Jim. Can I talk to you for a second?
Jim: Sure, what’s up?
Pam: I don’t know, I’m just, like, going a little crazy, cos I keep overhearing all of these conversations between Michael and corporate about, like, staff issues.
Jim: Oh, no.
Pam: Yeah, he’s making me take notes on these meetings, and I’m like, “These people are my friends.” But he’s all like, “This is confidential, you can’t tell anybody,” but I don’t know, I just feel like I wanna — [barfing sound]. Just promise me you’re not gonna say anything.
Jim: I will not — I’m not gonna tell anybody. This is between you and me. [Jim and Pam leave.]
Dwight: Jackpot.
[Cut to a talking head with Jim.]
Jim: That was beautiful. All her idea, too. Awesome. She’s so great.

Sometimes it seems as though Jim forgets that Pam isn’t actually his girlfriend. Then he starts to talk about her, and it all comes rushing back, and the crushing reality of the situation hits him. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing doesn’t also happen to Pam, but at this point, she’s still with Roy, so on some level, she’s telling herself that her crushing reality isn’t actually so crushing. Which is worse: Knowing you’re in love with someone it seems like you’ll never have, so you go home every night to an empty bed and dream of them, or being in love with someone other than your troglodyte fianc’e, and but not being able to admit it, so you have to go home at night and pretend not to be dreaming of the other person?

The other key Jim and Pam scene in this episode I already transcribed above, in the “Many Faces of Jim” section. On the surface, that scene, like the one in which Jim explains his alliance to Pam, is just funny. Well, then it gets a little scary, but you see what I’m saying. But the body language, suggestive before, is downright spicy at this point, their heads together, Jim’s hand across Pam’s shoulders, Pam twice grabbing onto Jim’s hand before Roy walks in and breaks things up. It’s like a tiny dream: They’ve forgotten that Pam is otherwise committed, and they’re just taking joy in their physical proximity — at one point, Pam has both hands up, and it looks like she’s going to touch Jim’s chest, yeow — until Roy arrives and bursts the bubble after mere seconds.

Later, Pam would be more guarded, physically, with Jim. When the same thing starts to happen in The Fight, she very suddenly jolts back to reality, realizes what is going on, and without Roy’s intervention puts a somewhat testy stop to it, which leaves both Jim and Pam ill-at-ease. I think the reason for this is, at this point, Pam is still telling herself that she and Jim are “best friends”, and while she may have an inkling that he wants more, she’s trying to believe that she doesn’t. When he gets too physically familiar with her in “The Fight”, it puts external pressure on the narrative that she has constructed for herself, and indicates, little though she wants to think it, that he may not just be plucking his ideas out of the air, and she may be giving him signals despite the fact that she doesn’t consciously want to. The ghost of this interaction can be seen in that one — Pam is learning that, unfettered, there are boundaries that she and Jim might cross that she probably thinks they shouldn’t.

“The Alliance” is a very complicated episode for Jim and Pam, but in the end, I have to give it a down on the JPI.

The Supporting Nod

Give it to Dwight, who is at his absolute ridiculous best when trying to live his life as if it’s a reality show.

The Superstar

Michael is so high-energy, so desperate, and such a complete ass that it could be nobody else.

The Office, Then and Now

That’s right, ladies and germs, a bonus section for your flashback recap. I’ve already delved into changes in characters a little bit, but in this section, I hope to tackle the broader changes that we’ve seen over the course of the previous four seasons. “The Alliance” is useful in this regard in a number of ways.

First, and most obvious, is the look of the show. In the first season, the lighting was purposefully poor, the colors washed out, and the faces gray and peaked. Michael is noticeably overweight, has large bags under his eyes, disgusting slimy hair, and wears baggy, formless clothes. At this point, the show really only has two good-looking people — Jim and Pam — and efforts are made to conceal their personal attractiveness: They dress in bland office garb, wear their hair over their faces, slouch, slump, and sit under harsh flourescents all day. The overall effect is conspicuously lacking in anything like hope. By the next season, Michael had lost a lot of weight, and it seems to me that the character he became has something to do with his looking nicer. No, it’s not true that a thinner person is necessarily happier or less pathetic than a heavier one, but when Michael’s natural good looks emerge, it does something to how we perceive him on television. Fat Michael just seems unhappy and mean. Thin Michael has girlfriends and looks good in a woman’s suit — he has hope, which is important, but he also has vanity, which is mostly just fun.

Beyond the look of the show, there is a distinct difference in tone between “The Alliance” and anything The Office has recently put on the air. It’s a little bit hard to put your finger on. Some things never change:

[Jim and Dwight conference in the parking lot.]
Jim: Toby and Kevin, they’re trying to get Angela kicked off.
Dwight: Good! Let ‘em. That’s fine, it helps our cause.
Jim: Well, I don’t know. Because if Kevin’s in accounting, and Toby’s in human resources, and they’re talking?
Dwight: They’re forming an alliance. . . . Dammit! Guh, guh guh!
[Dwight kicks Jim’s car. The alarm starts going. Jim turns it off with his keys.]
Jim: Okay, listen. We need to assume that everyone in the office is forming an alliance and is therefore trying to get us kicked off.
Dwight: Dammit. Why us?
Jim: Because we’re strong, Dwight. Because we’re strong.

This scene could have happened this week . . . had there been an episode this week. Dwight acts like an idiot, Jim encourages him, and it all builds to a punchline. But then there’s this:

[Meredith reads from her birthday card, at Michael’s behest, while everyone watches.]
Meredith: This is from Michael. Let’s hope the only downsizing that happens to you is that someone downsizes your age.
Michael: Because of the downsizing. Rumors. And because you’re gettin’ old.
Meredith: No, I . . . I get it. It’s funny.
Michael: You didn’t get the joke, so. That’s cool. You know what, actually, I have a bunch of these, good ones that I didn’t use. Where was it . . . oh, okay, here’s a good one. [Reading from notes.] “Hey Meredith, Liz Taylor called! She wants her age back, and her divorces back!” Cos Meredith’s been divorced like, twice, is that right?
Meredith: You’re right, you’re right. Yes.
Michael: Divorce. Um . . . Oh, okay. “Meredith is so old . . .”
Oscar [unenthusiastically]: How old is she?
Michael: If everybody could do it? “Meredith is so old . . .”
Everybody: How old is she?
Michael: She’s so old, she went into an antiques store, and they kept her! [Wounded silence.] That wasn’t even mine. I got that off the internet. Website, so, don’t get mad at me.
Oscar: Nice party, Michael.
Michael: This isn’t my fault. Ladies, not your best effort. Streamers? I think we could have done better than that, don’t you think?

Now, Michael making a series of insensitive jokes might still happen. His desperate attempts to shift blame are not unfamiliar. His grabs at attention still exist. But there are two things about this scene that feel different. First, smaller, is Oscar’s disappointed, “Nice party, Michael.” On today’s show, there’s the sense that everybody kinda feels sorry for Michael, and nobody, certainly not his employees, would try to make him feel worse after such a thunderously bad performance. In fact, it seems like just the sort of scene where, today, Michael might have a flash of genuine insight, and realize he’d just embarrassed himself.

The larger issue is that Michael still makes people do things that they don’t want to do, but these days people usually have a little fun with him: Biting comments that he doesn’t understand, manipulative games that go over his head, other distractions. They don’t fear his power, because they understand his weakness: an unquenchable thirst for affection. In “The Alliance”, everyone stands around, dead silent, and we feel sorry for all of them. Today, this scene playing out as it does here would be unfathomable: between Jim, Pam, Kelly, Toby, and Stanley, someone would have said something snide, at some point, to deflate the situation. This is a scene without a punchline, really, and there aren’t as many of those as there used to be, because we now have a much broader and more definite collection of characters to provide one.

Okay, I feel like I haven’t communicated my point very well, so I think it’s time to just move on.

Transmissions from the Office

  • [Dwight catches Michael coming out of the bathroom.] Dwight: Michael!
    Michael: Oh, God, Dwight! Come on!
    Dwight: I wanted to talk to you about the downsizing.
    Michael: There’s no downsizing. Dwight: But if there were, I’d be protected, as Assistant Regional Manager?
    Michael: Assistant to the Regional Manager, Dwight.
    Dwight: Yeah, so I don’t have to worry.
    Michael: Look, look, look, look. I talked to corporate about protecting the sales staff, and they said they couldn’t guarantee it if there’s downsizing, okay? But there’s no downsizing, so just don’t –
    Dwight: Bottom line: do I need to be worried?
    Michael [shaking his head]: Mmm — mmm — mmm — Maybe.

    What would Dwight do with his life if he didn’t sell paper? Two years after this exchange, when he was fired, he went to work at Staples and never found better employment before returning to the fold. I like to think that he would find another niche: Professional Scout leader, or bow hunting instructor, maybe a survivalist on TV like that Les Stroud guy. Dominion: Conquering Mother Nature with Dwight K. Schrute. I would watch that show. Wouldn’t you?

  • Stanley: Why did you do this?
    Dwight: I didn’t do it. What do you mean? Oh. The watercooler was brought over here for . . . maintenance. So, what do you guys hear? What’s the scuttlebutt?

    This factoid is too good not to share. What is a scuttlebutt? First recorded in 1805, the word meant . . . a cask containing water kept on a ship’s deck. Within a hundred years, it had come to mean “rumor”, because sailors would gather around the scuttlebutt to gossip. I kid you not.

  • [Pam has informed Michael that there are no staff birthdays soon, but that Meredith is the next on the list. Michael wants to have a party anyway.]
    Michael: Go ahead, live a little. C’mon, Pam. Come on, shake it up, shake it up! Shake it up. [He flips open his cell phone and talks into the top.] Spock, are there any signs of life down there? Well let me check, captain. [ . . . and begins to wave it around, making sci-fi beeping noises as if it were a life sensor or something.] No captain, no signs of life down here. Just a wet blanket named Pam. [He laughs, and shuts the phone.] Star Trek.

    One thing that struck me about this episode is how on Michael was all the time. Nowadays, he’s much more likely to have an occasional thoughtful moment, or just yammer in his normal voice — certainly, he still performs, but in “The Alliance”, he just. Never. Stops. You can see that it annoys the crap out of Pam, too. She has that, “I’m fantasizing pulling his tongue out and slapping him silly with it” look through this whole scene.

  • Dwight: Did you tell Pam about the alliance?
    Jim: What? No.
    Dwight: Just now!
    Jim: Oh, no, no no no, Dwight, no. I’m using her for the alliance. Who knows the most information about this office? Pam.
    Dwight: Right, that’s good. Good, pursue this.
    Jim: Well, I’m trying to. Do you see what I’m doing? But listen, I’m going to have to talk to her a lot, all right? And there may be chatting, and giggling, and you gotta just pretend to ignore it. Wipe it away.
    Dwight: Done.

    This is one of those episodes in which the title has two meanings, though it didn’t really occur to me until I watched this scene again. The alliance we all think of is that between Jim and Dwight — but the real alliance, the one that contains no deception and has more emotional significance, is that between Jim and Pam.

  • [Michael considers what to write on Meredith’s card.]
    Michael: Here’s the thing: whatever I write here has to be really, really funny, because people out there are expecting it. I’ve already set the bar really high. And they’re all worried about their jobs. You know, it’s kinda dark out there. Can you imagine if I wrote something like, um, oh . . . “Meredith, happy birthday, you’re great, love, Michael”? [Gagging noise.]

    It’s as if he sees the future, but not . . . very . . . clearly.

  • [Michael has called Dwight into his office in an attempt to learn more about Meredith.]
    Michael: Yeah, what do you know about Meredith?
    Dwight: I don’t think she’d be missed.
    Michael: There’s not going to be downsizing, Dwight, okay? I just need to know a little bit more about my friend.
    Dwight: Name: Meredith Palmer. Personal information: Divorced twice, two kids. Employer: Dunder Mifflin Paper, Incorporated. Awards: Multiple Dundies.
    Michael: I know all that, I know all that. I need something kind of embarrassing, you know, kinda fun, inside.
    Dwight: She had a hysterectomy.
    Michael: Which one is that again?
    Dwight: It’s where they remove the uterus.
    Michael: Oh, God, Dwight! No! I’m trying to write something funny here, okay? What am I gonna do with a removed uterus?
    Dwight: It could be kinda funny.

    I’m trying to remember Dwight ever making a joke. He has laughed, usually when a rival is embarrassed. Earlier in this episode he said something about a “gun show”. There’s when he sings “Ryan Started the Fire”, and then, “Jim . . . is gone!” from the end of Gay Witch Hunt. I’m just trying to figure out what view of universe makes hysterectomies funny. I think Dwight must specialize in schadenfreude.

  • Dwight: I’m a deer hunter. I go all the time with my dad. One thing about deer, they have very good vision. One thing about me, I am better at hiding than they are at vision.

    Dwight is trying to impart some very important truth right here, but I gotta tell ya, I’m not getting it. Don’t hunt deer in the dark? No. DO hunt deer in the dark. No. I don’t know. Why don’t we all pretend I just made a crack about how big Dwight’s head is, and leave it at that?

Odds and Ends

Linus has read as many as 100 books and seen more than 50 movies. You can read his updates on the Writers Guild of America strike at That’s Not What She Said or ask him about any of the 150 works he is known to have consumed at woodstein52@hotmail.com.

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I dunno, I think we do see emotional growth from Pam during the 3d season. I admit, early on we see she has fun scheming and pulling pranks, but for the most part she's putting out a quiet just-get-me-through-today demeanor. As season 3 progresses, I think we do see her pulling away from the Pam that would just take crap from people constantly (aside from her, for example, telling Kevin he's rude when he points out Katie's more attractive than her in the 6th episode of season 1) (it was the 6th, right?). Yeah, she does a stupid thing and goes back to Roy, but we all make stupid mistakes and her recovery from that, to me at least, shows that she's done some thinking and is going to be, dare I say it, an independent woman. I dunno. I didn't have too many problems with her progression.

But it's been a long day and I'm not in an awake enough position to really come up with examples and stuff at the moment to back up my position. Awesome recap, dude! Nice analysis. I enjoyed it.

1Posted by Karin on December 1, 2007

I agree with Karin. I think we saw a lot of growth from Pam in season 3. She seemed ready to start something with Jim when he came back-remember, she asked him out for coffee-but he was with Karen. And even when she got back together with Roy, we saw her standing up for herself in that relationship (she told Roy he had to be willing to do stuff she wanted if it was going to work). Plus, she was able to walk away from him, which she wasn't able to do before. And then in the finale, she was so happy and confident in herself, even believing that she'd never be with Jim. So it worked for me.

Anyway, great analysis! Sometimes I focus so much on what has changed since season one (Michael's character in particular) that I forget how much was there from the start (Jim & Dwight's rivalery).

2Posted by katayla on December 2, 2007

Amazing recap, Linus! Thanks! Even though I'd rather be reading recaps of new episodes, it's cool to be able to look back on situations from earlier seasons through the filter of what we know from S3 and the truncated season four. I totally got what you were saying under The Office, Then and Now section and thought that was good insight about the office dynamics. I agree with Karin and Katayla for the most part about Pam's transformation but at the same time kind of feel like there was something abrupt somewhere along the way between S3 and S4 and that her new persona doesn't quite fit as well as the old one. But maybe we were going to see something happen with that in the new episodes.

Do I want more Flashback recaps? Absolutely I do.

3Posted by Kristin on December 3, 2007

Good recap, but I want to say one thing Re: Jim and Dwight having sort of a brotherly relationship--I've always viewed Jim as the older brother and Dwight as the younger (setting aside their exact ages). Dwight's obviously the less mature of the two and the one who lives more in fantasy realms. It's not so much that he looks up to Jim...he clearly doesn't...but he's always trying to one-up him in different ways. Dwight seems to get tons of immature glee out of anything trivial that he perceives as some kind of "victory" over Jim; for example when he wins the "salesman of the year" award and how much he tries to rub Jim's face in it. And Jim, of course, wants nothing to do with the matter.

But more importantly, it's the way Jim treats Dwight that suggests an older/younger brother relationship. The constant pranks, jokes, etc., actually say a lot. Jim really understands Dwight's mindset, and how he densely lives in a world all his own, and he's able to take advantage of that...and that's why Jim's pranks always go so flawlessly. He knows they'd never in a million years work on someone with a normal mentality (The Andy cell-phone prank doesn't count here because it's in a world all its own).

But anyway, Jim's treatment of Dwight, and Dwight's naively falling for it every time, to me very much suggest that Jim is the older brother who gets infinite pleasure out of having fun at the younger's expense. Especially since Dwight deserves it every single time.

But I'm an only child, so I probably am not the ideal person to speak on the matter.

4Posted by Philip on December 3, 2007

Only child or not, Philip, I'd say you hit that pretty much on the head. I have two younger brothers and your statement pretty much encapsulates their relationship.

5Posted by Kristin on December 3, 2007

Well, maybe I'm a good guesser then, I dunno.

6Posted by Philip on December 4, 2007

I have a lot of brothers, and I have to say, that dynamic can pretty much go either way. Pranking can either be a method of asserting power or claiming power, and Dwight (perhaps because of his age) always seemed to me to be an older brother figure from whom Jim claimed power via his pranks, rather than asserting it. There's also the way in which Dwight's personality fits that of an oldest brother -- rule-bound, authoritarian, humorless. Say this as an oldest brother who spent a certain amount of time getting pranked by his younger brothers. But I could just have low self-esteem or something.

7Posted by Linus on December 4, 2007

I respectfully disagree with the whole Pam apparently changing during summer hiatus. I do believe the biggest change happened there. I mean, you see a total change in clothes when the come back for season 4 but I'd give that one to the fact that she's been dating the man of her dreams. That has given her a lot of confidence. I believe Jim is very supportative and in those couple of months he managed to prompt her to take those leaps. And I do see a slow and graduate change in Pam during season 3. The hair, the experimenting with the clothes (she doesn't manage to lose the button down but puts new sweaters on above the office clothes). Starting art classes, having an art show, the coal walk was her breaking point and when she had the courage to do that, the rest is the rest.

8Posted by PB&J on December 15, 2007

Gotta agree with the other posters that Pam did show growth during season 3. In addition to the art classes and show there was the art contest she won in "Traveling Salesmen". Also, while she always enjoyed the pranks it often seemed as if Jim was the primary instigator for many. Her elaborate Dwight/CIA prank in "Benihana Christmas" was undertaken with no expectation that Jim would be around for the payoff. It was just something she was doing to amuse herself. I don't see that from the Pam in "The Alliance".

9Posted by DC on January 7, 2008