The world of Dunder Mifflin gets turned on its head when the long-anticipated merger goes from rumor to reality and the refugees straggle into Scranton not unlike sheep to the slaughter. Or, to hold to Michael’s more romantic analogy of marriage, well, let’s just say the matrimonial bliss doesn’t outlast the coupon-laden welcome wagon. It’s a tumultuous day for all concerned, as expectations and intentions are met with varying degrees of failure. New lines are drawn in the sand and very few survive the day unaffected. R.I.P., Stamford.
Michael’s excitement over his new employees surely equals the loss of a large amount of sleep, but not out of any management-related concerns. As usual, his mission is purely that of entertainment.
Michael : My branch is absorbing the Stamford branch. Or, as I like to put it, my family is doubling in size. That’s all I’m going to say about it because I have a gigantic performance ahead of me and I have to get into my head and focus.
I have a feeling — a very strong feeling — that Michael clocked in more rehearsal time for this one day than the entire cast of SNL could in a month. It’s too bad the documentary format robbed us of his morning warm-up in the bathroom mirror.
Michael : You know, a lot of these people, this is the only family they have, so, as far as I am concerned…
[Lifts his “World’s Best Boss” mug]
Michael : …this says “World’s Best Dad.”
Michael works as a character because he has no filters. The same catalyst of utterly cringe-worthy moments also gives striking and stirring moments of clarity.
Michael : The word “merger” comes from the word “marriage.” And that was what today was supposed to be. The loving union between people. Instead, it has become like when my mom moved in with Jeff, and once again, it becomes my job to fix it.
All good intentions aside, if “Lazy Scranton” failed to forge bonds in the face of adversity, it’s highly doubtful that setting up innocent neighbors as the fall guys in a plot of tire sabotage will succeed. But that doesn’t deter Michael from such a scheme and, in the end, the poorly written forgery of a hate note incites the desired camaraderie in the troops, though not through any campaign against Vance Refrigeration.
Stanley : Trust me, it only gets worse.
Martin : Is he always like this?
Ryan : Sometimes he brings more costumes.
Hannah : When do people work?
Phyllis : Oh, we find little times during the day.
Karen : How are we going to get home?
Phyllis : Bob Vance has an air pump. He said he’d fill all our tires up.
Karen : Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration?
[Phyllis smiles and nods, cut to Michael peering at the group from his office]
Michael : Sometimes what brings the kids together is hating the lunch lady. Although that’ll change. Because, by the end of the fourth grade, the lunch lady was actually the person I hung out with the most.
That says a lot, actually, applying grade school politics to reconcile a polarized workforce.
Dwight’s paranoia of insubordination runs nearly as deep as his fear of a robot-controlled universe, so naturally the integration of new employees puts the threat level at an all-time high. And soon we learn the paranoia may not be entirely unfounded.
Dwight : Hello, I don’t believe we’ve been introduced. Dwight Schrute, Assistant Regional Manager.
Andy : Andy Bernard, Regional Director in charge of sales.
[They shake hands]
Dwight : So, you’ll be reporting to me, then.
Andy : On the contrary…
Dwight : My title has “manager” in it.
Andy : And, I’m a director, which on a film set is the highest title there is. Do you know anything about film?
Dwight : I know everything about film. I’ve seen over 240 of them.
Andy : Congratulations.
[They continue shaking hands, as neither one will break the grip]
It’s a showdown of absurd posturing and irrelevant titles that escalates into an all-out war more worthy of territorial primates on National Geographic. Andy wins the favor of both Michael and Angela, Jim is made the new second-in-command, and at the end of the day their respective vehicles bear the brunt of their animosity.
Andy : I saw your dorkmobile in the parking lot. What does it get, like four miles to the gallon?
Dwight : Uh, try double that. Classic Trans Am, vintage American muscle. Please.
Andy : Yeah, my Xterra’s pretty sweet. Luxurious yet rugged. Leave it to the Japanese.
Dwight : Xterra’s not even a real word.
Andy : Actually, it is. It’s Latin for “earth.”
Dwight : Oh, so you drive an X-Earth?
Andy : Yeah.
Dwight : That makes sense. I’d rather drive a classic Trans Am than an XEarth.
Andy : Yeah, I bet you would. Oh, and by the way, 1985 called and wants its car back.
Dwight : Well I hope 1985 has a time machine ’cause I drive an 87.
Andy : Oh, speaking of time machines, I just got back from the future and I went to your funeral and guess what, nobody came.
Dwight : Speaking of funerals, why don’t you go ahead and go die.
Andy : Oh, that was a really well-constructed sentence. You should be an English professor at Cor-not University.
Dwight : Idiot!
Andy : If I were an idiot, I’d be driving a Trans Am.
Dwight : If you were driving a Trans Am, you would be the smartest idiot in the whole world.
Andy : [Fake coughs] Idiot!
Dwight : [Fake coughs] You’re the idiot!
Andy : [Fake coughs] Nice comeback!
Dwight : [Fake coughs] I was making fun of your comeback! That’s why it worked.
[Andy scoffs and walks away]
Dwight : I totally got the best of that interchange. [Coughs for real]
Something tells me having Dwight and Andy under the same roof day after day will be the cage match to end all cage matches. I wonder how well-versed Andy is in the martial arts? Does he know he’s messing with a purple-belt Sempei?
The relocation of Jim this season has been sorely felt, so it’s only natural that his first order of business upon return is to rebuild a relationship that has suffered in his absence.
Dwight : Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in from Stamford.
Jim : Hey, Dwight!
Dwight : Fact. I am older. I am wiser. Do not mess with me.
Jim : Okay. Sounds good.
[Jim stares at Dwight’s forehead]
Dwight : What are you doing?
Jim : I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Dwight : Do I have a smudge on my forehead?
Jim : No, you’re good.
Dwight : Why are you looking at my forehead?
Jim : I’m not.
Dwight : Meet my eye line, Jim!
Jim : I am.
Dwight : Stop acting like an idiot!
Jim : Okay.
Torture via fax and phone is just no match for the real thing, and for a moment there it is just like the good ol’ days. We even miss the hint that Big Tuna might be coming home to find that, with a few small exceptions, he is for now as much of a fish out of water as anyone.
Pam’s foremost duties at Dunder Mifflin have nothing to do with answering the phone and everything to do with the mediation of outrageous conflicts; most, if not all of which star Dwight as the antagonist.
Pam : How did the run go?
Toby : Pretty good. I finished.
Pam : That’s great.
Dwight : Why is that great?
Pam : Because he accomplished something.
Dwight : What was your mile time?
Toby : About seven.
Dwight : Pfft. I can beat that on a skateboard.
Toby : Well, that has wheels.
Dwight : Well, my feet don’t and I could still crush that time.
Pam : Really, Dwight? How fast are you?
Dwight : Let’s just put it this way, last weekend I outran a black pepper snake.
Pam : [Sarcastic] Really?
Pam’s soft-spoken nature has hardly ever kept her from getting the last word, and in this case the appropriate proverb would go more like, “speak softly and let the idiot take laps around the building.”
[In the parking lot, Pam is supposedly timing Dwight’s run]
Pam : Am I being mean to Dwight? I don’t know. I did just make him run around the building and I have no intention of timing him. This isn’t even a stopwatch. It’s a digital thermometer. He does make my life harder sometimes, and on purpose. Like he tried to put meters on the bathroom stalls as a way of bringing in more money for the company.
[Dwight runs past]
Pam : Hey. Three more laps to go. You’ve gotta pick it up if you’re gonna beat Toby.
[Dwight yells in frustration]
Pam : I should probably get back to work.
And nothing she will do for the rest of the day will be quite as fulfilling.
Anticipation for the most rewarding outcome of the merger has been building since the first shock of Ryan at Jim’s desk — Jim’s desk! — indifferent to Dwight’s flying fingernails or the lingering glances from reception. And now, many long weeks and months later, with a world of change between the two, their reunion comes at last. Not one of us could possibly be more thrilled than Pam as she appears in rare form, hair curled, new clothes, flushed with excitement, and I dare say without a moment of sleep the night before. And finally, not a moment too soon, a familiar face walks through the door.
Jim : Hi, I’m Jim. I’m new here.
Pam : Oh my god! It’s really you!
[Pam runs around the desk and throws her arms around him. He embraces her and smiles]
Jim : I was just doing a little joke there about how we had never met…
Pam : I know, I don’t care!
It’s going to be hard to describe Pam in this episode without using the word “transparent” in every sentence. Her guard is not only down, it’s nonexistent — the exact opposite of her actions in May and of Jim’s actions now. His emotional distance is not immediately apparent, but the first hint of something amiss takes place in one of their sacred spaces, before the vending machines in the break room.
Pam : Hey.
Jim : Hey.
Pam : What happened to grape soda?
Jim : Oh, yeah, I’m trying to move away from that. Getting into more of a bottled water phase.
Pam : Oh, you’ve changed so much.
Jim : Well, I’m evolving, Pam.
With some very effective layering, teasing over grape soda becomes somewhat of a State of the Union address. Pam is eager to erase their months apart, but in his absence Jim has built a whole new line of defense. Soon Michael barges in and snowballs the growing awkwardness of the exchange. As he and Jim stumble into near incoherence, Pam’s face is a book of conflicted emotions, and when Michael finally leaves and Pam tries to giggle under the old shared amusement at their boss, Jim is unwilling to give in even that much.
Jim : I should probably get back to work. Crack the whip.
Pam : Yeah, no, me too.
Pam’s bewilderment only continues to grow as piece by piece, evidence appears that her expectations — whatever they may have been — are coming apart at the seams. Her best friend is acting a stranger, even directing attention that used to be hers onto someone else, and she’s at a loss on how to cope. On top of that, she carries most of the responsibility for the way things are, and her attempts at making amends seem to be falling short.
Pam : The day’s going fine. It’s been a little chaotic, but it’s fine. It’s great. A lot of distractions, but… it’s good.
It’s a brave front, but even fidgety denial fails her when she witnesses an otherwise inconsequential display of affection between Jim and their new coworker with all the effect of an electric shock. “This is egregious!” cries Michael, unrelated yet indicative, as Pam stares paralyzed for the camera.
Jim is fighting hard to move on, and on the surface seems to be succeeding. The decision to return to Scranton was obviously a difficult one and he’s taking pains to play it safe. He’s taking his job more seriously. He’s on the offensive against the all-too-fresh rejection. He’s found an ally in Karen — a logical and even likable choice, although despite the best intentions of both, their interactions pale in comparison to the Jim and Pam of old, or even the Jim and Pam of a few weeks ago. And I’m betting they’re meant to.
Jim : Hey.
Pam : Hey.
Jim : I thought you had already left.
Pam : Uh, no. I just had some other stuff I had to do.
Jim : Good.
Pam : What’s up?
Jim : Oh, nothing. I just feel bad. I feel like things were a little weird today or something.
Pam : What do you mean?
Jim : I just think I should tell you that I’ve sorta started seeing someone, and um…
Pam : Oh, that’s totally cool. You can do whatever you want.
Jim : Oh– okay. Good.
Pam : We’re friends. We’ll always be friends.
Jim : Right.
Pam : It’s good to have you back.
Jim : Yeah, it’s good to be back.
The accumulating misery of the day may have forced this exchange at the end, but not without giving the proof that we’re far from scratching the surface here. Jim’s expression as he climbs in his car is one of the most honest reactions we get from him all day, and it speaks volumes about the unfamiliar territory they’ve suddenly found themselves in.
And so, The Merger is a rollercoaster ride that eventually dips Down on the Jim/Pam Index. But one thing is for sure, the cards have been shuffled and redealt. If the past two years have belonged to Jim, this one is all Pam’s. Now let’s see the hero get the guy.
The longer the episode, the more the supporting players shine, the harder to choose a favorite. But this week I have to give it to the normally mild-mannered Phyllis for bristling in defense of her fiance’s nose for fragrance.
[Karen has unknowingly insulted Phyllis’ perfume and is trying to backtrack]
Karen : It’s just my crazy nose, I– um, I’m used to different smells.
Phyllis : Bob Vance bought this perfume for me in metropolitan Orlando. It’s made from real pine.
Karen : Who’s Bob Vance?
Phyllis : You have a lot to learn about this town, sweetie.
Never before have the words “metropolitan Orlando” been brandished as such a weapon. The future Mrs. Bob Vance owns this exchange and no description could possibly do it justice.
The verbal sparring of Dwight and his new arch-nemesis is not to be equalled, but it’s Pam’s quiet transparency that makes the episode and breaks our hearts.
Kevin : In general, they do not give me much responsibility here. But, they do let me shred the company documents, and that is really all I need.
A squeal of glee from Kevin is worth a thousand words.
Andy : Hello.
Michael : Ah, you must be Andy Bernard. Aloha and welcome!
Andy : And you must be Michael Scott. Aloha and… hello.
Michael : [Laughs] Ah ha! Very good! Welcome to our little kingdom. We have a bag of nifty gifties for you.
Andy : Michael, thank you for welcoming me to your little kingdom… Mike. Nifty!
Michael : They are nifty! They’re nifty gifties.
[Cut to interview]
Michael : You know who I really like? Is this guy Andy Bernard. He’s got this very likable way about him.
And there you have it, the quickest way to Michael’s heart is personality mirroring. And if you were to, say, follow it up by rescuing a reenactment of Night at the Roxbury, well, it’s nothing short of pinkie-swearing to be his BFF.
[Kelly runs into the break room and throws her arms around Jim]
Kelly : Jiiiiiiim!
Jim : Kelly!
Kelly : Oh my god, I have so much to tell you!
Jim : Really?
Kelly : Yes! Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes? They had a baby, they named it Suri. And then Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? They had a baby too and they named it Shiloh, and both babies are a-maz-ing!
Jim : Great. What’s new with you?
Kelly : I just told you.
Thanks to Kelly, Jim is spared weeks of tabloid catch-up, because, you know, news of such joyous events could not have possibly been heralded in the far-off land of Connecticut.
[One of the new employees is not-so-subtly using a breast pump at her desk.]
Hannah : Take a picture. It’ll last longer.
Ryan : I’m sorry… it’s just… it’s a little distracting.
Creed : Ditto that, my brother.
That sound is Creed shattering all previous records of creepiness.
[Michael gathers everyone into the conference room]
Toby : Um, you might want these orientation materials.
Michael : Wrong, Toby. This is an orientation, not a bore-ientation. Okay. Do not worry, all of your questions are about to be answered. Cell phones and pagers off, please.
Jim : Oh, this looks promising.
Pam : You won’t be disappointed.
Pam may have never said a truer word. The debut of “Lazy Scranton” does not disappoint in any conceivable way. What is far more disturbing, however, is the discovery that it is merely the latest installment in a long-standing orientation tradition.
[Tony is quitting]
Michael : You can’t quit on the first day! That’s heresy, my friend! Okay, let’s talk about this. What happened? I mean, what– Was it Toby? Did he say something? Because he’s– well…
Oh yes, it was definitely Toby.
Somewhere a piece of Oscar dies as his screensaver is sacrificed to kittens in costume for Angela’s approval.
Kevin does for the shredder what Kramer did for the shower in the realm of salad preparation.
One of the most priceless moments of the episode is played out in complete silence: Stanley dissing a brother.