Under the influence of Martin’s questionable past, Dunder Mifflin gets cast in the light of prison with mostly unfavorable results. Morale reaches what could be an all-time low and a second Stamfordite concedes defeat to the volatile regime of Michael and his incarcerated doppelganger. Meanwhile, Andy sets his sights on the receptionist and Jim sets things right with a return to his mischievous roots.
Every time Michael opens his mouth, the world’s social progress is ratcheted back some fifty years and Mr. Brown packs his bags for another company-wide circuit of damage control.
Michael : Why did the convict have to be a black guy? It is such a stereotype. I just wish that Josh had made a more progressive choice. Like a white guy… who went to prison for… polluting a black guy’s lake.
Is that some sort of code on the streets for a serious crime? Something tells me… not. And of all the ways to promote honesty, empathy, respect, and open-mindedness, I’m sure sporting a purple do-rag and transforming into a mass of television cliches named “Prison Mike” is so far down the list, it’s not even on the list.
Dwight : Hey Mike, what’s the very, very worst thing about prison?
Angela : [muttering] Don’t you encourage him, Dwight.
Michael : [as “Prison Mike”] The worst thing about prison was the– was the Dementors. They were flyin’ all over the place and they were scary and then they’d come down and they’d suck the soul outta your body and it hurt!
Karen : Dementors? Dementors like in Harry Potter?
Michael : [as “Prison Mike”] No, not Harry Potter. There were no movies in prison. This is my point.
That is his point, people. Come on. (But yes, Harry Potter.)
For an ex-volunteer sheriff’s deputy, having the criminal element invade your workplace is a hard pill to swallow. Fortunately Dwight is Dwight, practitioner and master of self-restraint.
Michael : Just… try to be cool.
Dwight : I am cool.
Michael : Okay, are you cool, really?
Dwight : I’m cool, I’m cool, I’m so cool. Tell me what is going on.
Michael : Um, Martin, from Stamford, was at one time in prison.
[Dwight processes the information, then tries to charge past Michael into the office. Michael struggles to hold him back]
Michael : No, Dwight! Be cool, be cool!
Let’s just be glad security in the office park is no longer a joke, or Dwight might have had weaponry at his disposal that shoots potatoes at 60 pounds per square inch.
After the reigning awkwardness of the previous episode, it’s more than relief to see Jim return to his usual ways, albeit with a little adjustment in the line-up. But who can blame him for the substitution when the faithful object is practically MIA and the new contender is such an eager victim?
[Jim is working at his desk when the phone rings]
Jim : Jim Halpert.
Andy : I am so horny.
Jim : Okay, I can’t… help you… with that.
Andy : Oh, I think you can, Big Tuna. Tell me about that Indian chick, Kelly. She seems pretty slutty. Good for a romp in the sack.
Jim : She is dating Ryan, I think.
Andy : Oh, and I care, why?
Jim : She’s high maintenance.
Andy : Next. How about… [mouths “Angela”]? Blondes are more fun. Come on, trust me on that.
Jim : Yeah, trust me, that would be fun for no one.
Andy : Okay, fine. Pam, the receptionist. Pa-am. Should I go for it?
[Jim glances back at Pam, who gives him a little smile. Jim turns back to the phone and grins]
Jim : Absolutely you should.
Andy : Jackpot.
Jackpot, indeed. Our Jim is back, and on fire with no less than a dozen priceless reactions for the camera and the constant baiting of Michael.
Jim : What did you do, Prison Mike?
Michael : [as “Prison Mike”] I stole. And I robbed. And I kidnapped the President’s son. And held him for ransom.
Jim : That is quite the rap sheet, Prison Mike.
Michael : [as “Prison Mike”] And I never got caught neither.
Jim : Well, you’re in prison, but, mm-hmm…
And that has been the gaping hole in Jim’s absence. He is the invaluable filter through which the daily absurdities are interpreted to the camera, to us, and to some degree the rest of the office. Without that, it’s a little like being lost at sea.
Of all the beleaguered employees, Pam arguably has the situation closest to imprisonment.
Pam : What was prison like?
Martin : Not terrible. Boring. We did the same thing every day. But, at least we’d get outdoors time.
Kevin : You got outdoors time?
Martin : Two hours every day. Sometimes we’d play pickup football games…
Kevin : Michael, why don’t we get outdoors time?
Pam : Yeah, somedays I never go outside.
Well, there was that bird funeral…
Pam : Kind of sounds like prison’s better than Dunder Mifflin.
Michael : Oh, well, that’s not true.
Kevin : I would so rather be in prison.
Ryan : Prison sounds great.
Unfortunately, Pam is no more capable of crime than Hannah’s innocent pink-clad baby boy. Unless, of course, you count Dwight’s definition of malfeasance, and have Dwight as both prosecutor and judge.
For an episode that opens with Jim explaining, however uncomfortably, his new relationship with Karen and concludes with Jim and Pam having said not so much as a word to each other for its entire length, there doesn’t seem to be much hope of a positive breakthrough. And yet, that’s the farthest thing from the truth.
Actions, not words, have always been their default language, and a mutual inclination towards mischief is the tie that binds. So when wisdom is sought for an ambush on the receptionist, Jim, ever the opportunist, launches a counterstrike that turns Andy into a pawn of reconciliation.
Andy : All righty. Let’s get started. What is she into?
[Cut to interview]
Jim : I know Pam pretty well. I know the things that she likes, and just as important, I know the things that she hates. So, one of the things that she likes is pranks. And the things that she hates…
[Cut back to scene]
Jim : Frisbee-based competitions.
Andy : Are you kidding?
Jim : She…
Andy : I started the main Frisbee golf club at Cornell. Where I went to college. I live to frolf.
Jim : Lead off with that.
Andy : Okay.
Jim : She loves hunting. She also loves those ads for Six Flags, with the old guy.
[Andy hums the Six Flags commercial jingle]
Jim : Got it. Also… do you speak pig latin?
It may seem innocent enough, but proof of such extensive knowledge doesn’t exactly lend to playing it safe.
Andy : Pama-lama-ding-dong. Listen, you’re cute. There’s no getting around it. So, I don’t know if you like country music, but I was thinking maybe one of these days we could drive out to a field, crank up some tunes, smoke a few Macanudos. Maybe even toss a disc around. Utway ooday ooyay inkthay, Ampay?
Pam : Wow. I…
Andy : Ssh! Think about it. I’ll hit you back.
[Cut to interview]
Pam : Wow. That was… wow.
The recognition that Andy has been provided with ammunition as could only come from one source, her old partner in crime, is a long-awaited spark. And when Jim confirms her suspicions by swiveling around, chin in hand, guilty and extraordinarily pleased, her response is nothing short of the sun coming up.
When Karen wants in on the fun and Jim gets just shy of territorial, we get a glimpse of where his loyalties still lie. Yet, there’s a flavor of something different. He isn’t absently pining for an unattainable prize, playing a game in hopes of Pam’s attention. Their silent interactions stem from honest affection and the inherent bond they share, attesting to the strength of their relationship even in the midst of their current circumstances. Conceivably, their ability to exist only as friends is there; it’s just constantly sabotaged by the promise of something more.
And so, The Convict scores a solid move Up for The Jim/Pam Index. I might have been forced to label it more tentatively, had not that final scene over Andy’s falsetto “Rainbow Connection”– excuse me, “Ainbow-Ray Onnection-Cay”– been so unexpectedly magical. Karen who?
Kevin nearly stole the show, but it’s Andy in a landslide with the banjo.
Jim Halpert, ladies and gentlemen.
[Jan is on speaker phone]
Angela : Jan, which one of the new employees is a criminal?
Jan : Reformed convict. And uh, I’m not sure. Though hang on. Let me email our HR. Stay on the line.
Pam : [Whispers] Who is it?
Michael : Hannah…? Andy…?
Angela : Andy.
Kevin : Martin?
Michael : Oh, you are such a racist.
Kevin : Wait, why am I a racist?
Michael : Because you think he’s black.
Kevin : He is black, right? And–
Michael : Stop it, stop it– stop it right now!
[Jan comes back on the line]
Jan : Okay, it’s someone named Martin Nash.
Kevin : Yeah!
Jan : Michael?
As Michael’s boss, Jan is often his first and only line of defense against sensitive information. Yet, even given her first-hand experience with Michael’s malfunctioning integrity, she fails this task with increasing regularity.
Michael : So, what we need to do is to forget about this whole Martin-in-prison thing. People will draw unfair conclusions about Martin, and/or black people.
Kevin : Cool.
Pam : Okay. Angela?
Angela : Sure. Let’s protect the convicts. At the expense of the general feeling of safety in the workplace. As a 90-pound female that sits in an ill-lit, rarely visited corner of the office, naturally I agree with that.
Michael : Good.
Biting sarcasm is lost on Michael.
Kevin : I had Martin explain to me three times what he got arrested for, because… it sounds an awful lot like what I do here… every day.
Kevin Malone, the Kenneth Lay of Dunder Mifflin? I guess such proficiency with the paper shredder should have been the first clue.
Creed : Baby! Hello, baby! Here, you want to play with this?
Karen : You can’t give paperclips to a baby! He could swallow them.
Creed : Oh, it’s okay, I got tons of ‘em.
Creed should not be allowed within 50 feet of anyone under the age of 21.
Michael : Everybody. May I have your attention, please? I realize that a lot of you have already heard that Martin here has had some trouble with the law. But I just want to declare publicly that I trust him completely. And that anyone who doesn’t is an ignorant… dumb person. Okay? As a matter of fact, you show me a white man you trust, and I will show you a black man I that trust even more. Pam, tell me a white person you trust.
Pam : My dad.
Michael : Danny Glover.
Jim : Jonas Salk.
Michael : Who?
Jim : Justin Timberlake.
Michael : Oh, please. Colin Powell.
Karen : Hey, I got one. Jesus.
Michael : Apollo Creed.
There is such an abundance of material to work with here, I don’t even know where to begin. Michael scores with Danny Glover, Jim racks up bonus points from Jonas to Justin, and Stanley’s reaction to the King of Sting brings it home.
Michael : These people don’t realize how lucky they are. This office is the American Dream, and they would rather be in the hole.
Memo to Jan. New corporate tagline. “Dunder Mifflin: The American Dream.”
[Michael takes a small weight out of his car during “outdoors time”]
Michael : Why don’t we pump some iron? Anybody wanna pump up?
Jim : What is that, like 5 pounds?
Michael : It’s 2 1/2. I’m not going for bulk, I’m going for tone.
What’s going for bulk? Bench-pressing paperweights?
Jim : Oh, Andy. I thought of one last tack you can take with Pam.
Andy : Yeah, what?
Jim : Quick question– do you play the guitar?
Andy : I play the banjo.
Jim : Hold on, let me think about that… Yes, that’ll work. But can you sing in a sexy high falsetto voice?
Andy : [sings in falsetto] You know I can, my man.
Too. good. to. be. true.
Michael : [as “Prison Mike” to Ryan] And you, my friend, would be da belle of da ball.
Ryan hasn’t looked so violated since he took home the Hottest in the Office award. Wait… yes. Yes, he has.
Pam : Prison Mike, what was the food like in prison?
Michael : [as “Prison Mike”] Gruel sandwiches. Gruel omelets. Nothin’ but gruel. Plus, you can eat your own hair.
Delicious. Sign me up.
The most loaded throw-away line of the episode comes from Michael during the conference call: “Hey, Jan, speaking of Stamford, Hannah brought in her baby…” Yeah.
Michael’s invested surveillance as Dwight tempts Martin with wads of cash begs the question: whose idea was this? Oh, of course. Dwight’s.
Watch Jim when “Prison Mike” goes off about the Dementors. How John doesn’t spontaneously combust, I don’t know.
If Hannah goes next week, the show gets renamed “Survivor: Scranton.”