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The Office: "Broke"

It was a testament to the artistry of tonight’s episode of The Office that it managed to generate a lot of drama and suspense out of what most viewers understood to be a foregone conclusion: that the episode, and Idris Elba’s exquisitely uncomfortable guest stint would end with Michael back in power at Dunder-Mifflin and the Michael Scott Paper Company out of business.

It was Sitcom 101—no matter how crazy things get, everything almost invariably ends with the status quo being affirmed—but stretching that dynamic out to a quarter of a season and bringing in a heavy hitter like Elba pumped some new blood into a trusty old warhorse of a show. The Office has been on the air for five long season and it hasn’t yet been reduced to wedding after wedding after wedding or a little green spaceman only Michael Scott can see.

The episode began with the Michael Scott Paper Company and Dunder-Mifflin circling each other warily like a pair of exhausted fighters limply jabbing at each other in the 12th round. Neither side wants to declare defeat but they don’t have the energy or the strength to continue much longer. Ryan in particular embodies this bone-deep exhaustion; he’s clearly dead inside, a bleached blonde hollowed out shell of a man. It was both funny and a little sad to see him turn down a celebratory cup of bubbly late in the show.

The Michael Scott Paper Company has been steadily siphoning off Dunder-Mifflin clients by undercutting their prices. The only problem is that their business model isn’t at all sustainable. In fact it’s practically dot.comriffic in its impracticality and willingness to bleed money for the indefinite future. Pam realizes she’s made a huge mistake in throwing in her lot with an overgrown twelve-year-old like Michael and an old Korean woman keeps trying to board The Michael Scott Paper Company’s truck.

In a clear sign that shit has gotten out of hand David Wallace comes down to Scranton to try to figure out an amiable resolution to the Michael Scott Paper Company/Dunder-Mifflin Wars. Charles Miner comes to realize that his faith in Dwight might be a little misplaced when all of Dwight’s ideas on how to deal with The Michael Scott Paper Company involve unleashing a dangerous swarm of angry bees.

One of my least favorite comedy conventions is the shock cut between a character saying that no matter what, they’ll never do something, immediately followed by the image of them doing just that. For example, a character might say, I will never, never, any under any circumstances violently sodomize a hippo followed immediately by the image of them anally assaulting a hippo.

Tonight’s episode toyed with that convention by having Michael Scott vow repeatedly not to fold in negotiations with Dunder-Mifflin and concede just how badly the company is doing. But rather than immediately blurt out that his company is on the verge of folding and has no future he played it relatively cool. Actually that’s not entirely true but his negotiations with his old employer stayed true to character; he was half hard-nosed, surprisingly savvy businessman, half socially retarded spazz. Michael is something of an idiot savant, very gifted at some things (selling) and mind-bogglingly inept at others.

Like the show that introduced Elba’s character, tonight’s episode was as dramatic as it was comic. The comedy tended to be on the subtle and character-based side, with a few exceptions. Dwight seemingly had the power to dramatically tip the balance of the negotiations in Dunder-Mifflin’s favor when he discovers that the Michael Scott Paper Company has been begging clients for more money but Charles wasn’t about to take anything he said too seriously after his obsession with bee-based corporate sabotage. How did you guys feel about that plot point? It rang a little false to me but I was willing to overlook it, since there was a lot going on in tonight’s episode and much of it was inspired.

As I stated earlier, the episode ended pretty much the only way it possibly could: with Michael back in power, having successfully negotiated for his job back, a promotion for Pam to salesperson and a place for Ryan in the company he defrauded and disgraced. The episode closed on an extraordinarily satisfying note, with Charles trying to say goodbye to employees who never threatened to become his friends, or even friendly acquaintances, let alone a makeshift family, and Michael coldly shutting him down in a neat echo of the way Charles wouldn’t let him say goodbye after he quit.  

Elba’s stint on The Office went out on a high note. I’ll miss his joyless scold of a middle manager but it’s nice to have the gang reunited. I tell ya, when The Office goes off the air it will be even sadder than the day Steve Martin dies.

Grade: A-

Stray Observations—

 I loved the recurring gag of the confused Korean woman trying to get into the Michael Scott Paper Company van with the name of her church still etched onto its side

—Hey, Steve Carell directed this episode. Good job

—An appearance by David Wallace almost invariably signals that an episode will be on the dramatic, uncomfortable side

—Have we seen the last of Charles Miner?

—We haven’t seen Darryl in ages. Craig Robinson must be hard at work on Miss March Too

—Favorite lines/moments?  

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