Tonight we were treated to another installment of The Office After Dark. Nighttime episodes of The Office tend to rub a lot of fans the wrong way. They find them a little too kooky, dark and twisted. I, on the other hand, tend to dig them for those very same reasons. Accordingly, tonight's episode was big on boozy camaraderie, sordid confessions and psychodrama.
Yes, The Office gang was headed to Winnipeg! Dunder-Mifflin suit David Wallace decides to cheer up a despondent Michael Scott by sending him and wingmen Oscar and Andy to Canada for a sweet-ass business trip/really crappy vacation. Meanwhile, Jim patiently counts down the hours until Pam returns from art school and suffers the creepy smiles of his co-workers, all of whom disconcertingly seem as invested, if not more invested, in the happy couple's impending reunion than Jim himself, especially Creed, who subjects him to a seriously unnerving shoulder rub.
Michael beams with child-like enthusiasm before the trip, packing two suitcases just for souvenirs. Michael is the king of both self-delusion and small pleasures, so he treats the prospect of a mundane business trip like an all-expense paid cruise around the world. He's especially excited about the fact that his hotel has a concierge, a woman dedicated, in Michael's fevered imagination at least, to "fanciness and pleasure". Alas, he seems to have confused "concierge" with "concubine".
An ostensibly humbled Ryan decides to win Kelly back through an erotic display of his push-up prowess. Kelly proves an easy mark and it isn't long before they're engaged in a clumsy office hook-up. Ryan decides to make it easy for Kelly by thoughtfully composing her a text message breaking up with Darryl. "It's well written and all", Kelly concedes before they romantically hit the send button together.
Darryl couldn't be happier to finally be rid of Kelly and her craziness. In the episode's funniest moment he half-struts, half-swaggers to his car as if the biggest, most crushing weight in the world had just been lifted off his shoulders. It was a fucking genius sight gag, as was the look of abject mortification on Ryan's face once he realized that A. He wasn't fucking Darryl over so much as doing him a really big favor B. Breaking Kelly and Darryl up meant that he was now once again obligated to be the boyfriend of a needy, clinging, co-dependent flibbertigibbet
Be careful what you wish for indeed. Back in Winnipeg, Oscar and Andy get hammered on Long Island ice tea and it comes out that Andy hasn't had sex with Angela yet. When Andy drunkenly calls Angela and asks why they haven't hooked up yet he's demoted to first base–chastely kissing her forehead. Andy and Oscar really hit it off in Winnipeg–in a great talking head Andy beams that it's weird he had to travel to Canada to find out that Oscar is delightful!
This raises the question: could Andy be gay? While Oscar and Andy bond Michael tries to forget about Holly by hooking up with the concierge, who is played by Wendi McLendon-Covey of Reno 911! fame, only to brusquely get the boot at the end of the night.
Nighttime episodes of The Office tend to take dark turns. Getting a cold brush-off from a woman ostensibly dedicated to "fanciness and pleasure" breaks through Michael's seemingly impregnable wall of self-delusion. Michael has a dark night of the soul in which he realizes just what a farce his job and especially his trip to Winnipeg is and aches deeply for Holly.
In a rare display of testicular fortitude directed towards one of his bosses, Michael tells off David Wallace for transferring Holly and trying to pass off a shitty business trip as a perk. Jim and Pam's joyous reunion takes a similarly dark turn when Pam fails one of her classes and it appears that her art-school dreams might just be more than a temporary bump in the road en route to sharing a blissful life together.
In an understatedly tense phone call, Jim's resentment over their separation sorta slips out. The tension that had been building this entire season rose to the surface and Pam seemed genuinely distraught.
One of the things that gave the British Office such dark resonance was the implication that its star-crossed lovers might never amount to anything, that for all their hopes and dreams and scruffy, unthreatening charm, they might be doomed to lives of quiet desperation and professional failure.
Tonight was the first episode in a long time when I felt that might be true of their American counterparts as well. As Dwight indelicately trumpeted, it's altogether possible that while cute and funny and bright Pam simply might not be a very good artist and that Jim might not be bound for bigger and better things. That gave tonight's episode a bracing subtext.
Jim told Pam that he wanted her to come back "the right way" but instead Pam returned home an apparent drop-out, happy just to be in Jim's presence again. It was a moment of both defeat and triumph for Pam. She might not make it as an artist but she'll always be a winner in Jim's eyes. Ah, who the hell am I kidding? Those crazy kids are gonna make it after all.
Grade: A- Stray Observations– –"I want to take you to sex school!" –Meredith has a lot of experience in vans –Kelly and Ryan: doomed to be together –Man, how sucky is that Kath and Kim show? I usually catch the last few minutes of it waiting for The Office. Is there anything to it beyond, "Boy, are these characters ever dumb!"? –Is it just me or did Kelly instantly become less attractive the moment she got back together with Ryan?