First up, embarrassing confession time. I was once dumped on my birthday. Well, it wasn’t exactly on my birthday; it was about ten minutes before my twenty-first birthday. I could see it coming; it really wasn’t a matter of whether the end was coming but rather when. And she decided to blurt, “I, uh, I mean, uh, I think we should probably see other people.” just before the halcyon moment before I reached the legal drinking age.
I didn’t particularly mind being dumped (though heaven knows that’s not much fun) but I really wished she’d chosen a slightly more opportune time to pull the trigger. So I had a sense of what Pam’s mom was experiencing during a particularly excruciating episode of The Office. As various folks on Twitter have pointed out, it was a bit of a companion episode to “Dinner Party”, one of my all-time favorite episodes.
Yet tonight had the curious quality of being at once punishingly dark and strangely inconsequential. People got hurt, relationships were shattered, grown men were bitch-slapped by pregnant women but nothing much seemed to be at stake, perhaps because it was apparent we wouldn’t be seeing too much more of Pam’s mom. She served her purpose, exposed Michael as a raging asshole, then went gently into that good night.
But first Dwight, wearing a Chesire Cat grin of infinite self-satisfaction, decided to get exquisitely passive-aggressive revenge on Jim by doing favors for his co-workers so they’d all be in his debt and he could call in his favors to destroy Jim. This brings him into direct conflict with Andy, who has a similar predilection for doing the right things for the wrong reasons.
Ah, but the real meat of the show was a predictably disastrous double date between Jim and Pam and Michael and Pam’s mom, a potent combination of attractive and maternal. She looked more than a little like Jan and brought out the doting daddy in Michael, who seemed all too eager to play stepdad to his underlings until Pam’s mom reveals that she’s fifty-eight, rather than fifty-four.
This, sadly, makes all the difference. Michael has always boasted the emotional transparency of a child; he has the world’s worst poker face. Everything he feels immediately registers on his incredibly expressive punim. When Michael learns that Pam’s mom is slightly older than he thought he goes from lovestruck boyfriend to callous jerk.
To Michael, dating the fifty-four year old mother of a co-worker proves he’s open-minded and desirable, not to mention swimming around in the same gene pool that created Pam. Dating a fifty-eight year old, on the other hand, is akin to being caught in a compromising position with the bogeyman’s grandma. Michael turns on a dime and immediately begins sabotaging and subverting the sentimental surprises he’d cooked up for a lady love who now fills him with something approaching visceral disgust.
Michael instantly goes from Jekyl to Hyde. He morphs from tender to cruel as he posits himself as a triathlete in the making (he just needs to figure out how to swim first) and a vibrant young man who cannot be held back by an AARP-eligible girlfriend. The sequence where Michael dumps Pam’s mom, on her birthday, in front of her daughter and son-in-law, in the coldest, most insulting manner possible was too dark and uncomfortable to be funny. It was just painful.
A mortified and ashamed Michael then tries to make amends to Pam by offering her a wholly undeserved raise. But she won’t be satisfied until she’s caused Michael physical pain to match her mother’s emotional agony. The Dunder-Mifflin office devolves into an elementary school playground as word begins to circulate that Pam is going to hit Michael after work. In the immortal parlance of the schoolyard, "fight, fight, fight!"
The final altercation ended up being something of an anticlimax. Pam bitch-slapped Michael instead of hitting him. It was more emasculating than anything. Tonight’s episode had the darkness and the claustrophobic intensity of “Dinner Party” without the heft. I didn’t laugh that often but I was thoroughly engaged.
—Pam’s mom seemed strangely oblivious to the sudden shift in Michael’s affect and attitude. Was she simply oblivious or trying to make the best of a bad, uncomfortable situation, as mothers are prone to do?
—How do you guys feel about Michael being a raging prick? He was very much at his worst tonight. Verily, he did not deserve a hovercar, a hoverhouse, Jim and Pam as his best friends or the gift of immortality
—Toby's boxing advice reminded me of my own boyhood stint at B.K Yun's Tae Kwan Do Academy in Shorewood WIsconsin. Push a geek too far and he'll eventually fight back.
—“Is that popcorn you’re eating?”
—“It has almost no calories!”