(Nathan Rabin is currently off cavorting with celebrities—okay, indie celebrities—in the relatively temperate environs of Park City, Utah. He’ll return to his regularly scheduled Office/30 Rock blog duties next week.)
The last episode of The Office ended on a cliffhanger of sorts: Showing her newfound confidence (and bossiness) as head of the party planning committee, Phyllis thwarted Angela’s attempt to call her bluff by revealing to the entire office that Angela and Dwight had been sleeping together behind Andy’s back. And in classic Office fashion—and by “classic,” I mean the most humiliating and awkward way possible—everybody was in the big secret except for Andy himself. That, of course, made him look like an even bigger schmuck for being cuckolded by his wife-to-be.
Tonight’s half-hour had to pull off a complicated piece of sitcom jujitsu: How do you drop this bombshell on three major characters and still have all of them at their desks next week? Specifically, how can Dwight and Andy keep working together while one of them gets the girl and “the loser” gets Meredith? (Kudos to the writers, incidentally, for giving Meredith more time this season and getting into the depths of her pathetic spinster barfly lifestyle. “I’ve had two men fight over me before,” she says. “Usually it’s over who gets to hold the camcorder”) The solution was to go with Option C: Leave both of them feeling so betrayed by Angela that neither want anything to do with her. Besides, as an accountant, she does a whorish job filling out forms.
The A-story in “Duel” was a nice mix of the wacky and the melancholy, though it’s perhaps a little long on the former and a little short on the latter. In The Office’s comic universe, it makes sense that the schoolboy immaturity of Dwight and Andy—who have always had more in common they not—would lead to them arranging a fight in the parking lot. Some of the gags were expected, like Dwight trying to access the massive weapons stockpile he has tucked away in the office, but others were pretty inspired. I particularly liked Andy’s triumphant gambit with the note and the car, which led Oscar to deliver the line of the night: “The Prius is silent if he keeps it under 5 miles per hour. He deserves the win.” (A fine Oscar episode overall, actually. His exchange with Dwight over Dwight and Angela screwing in the office was a gem. “Where?,” asks Oscar in blind panic. Dwight: “Seems like you already know where.”)
In order for all this to happen, it makes sense send Michael out of town, because it’s in his nature to insert himself in the middle of the Dwight-Andy-Angela situation and it would have been distracting. Instead, he gets to pull the pin on the grenade and drive off into a funny-but-forgettable B-plot in Manhattan, home of the authentic New York pizza slice (Sbarro). Expecting a business-as-usual dressing-down for his incompetence, he instead discovers the world has gone topsy-turvy and David Wallace wants to know why Dunder-Mifflin-Scranton is so profitable while the other branches are floundering in the down economy. His answers: An “improvisational” sentence that goes nowhere, ordering pasta for lunch, and ingratiating himself to employees like Kevin by commenting on their new suit jacket (“I feel the need. The need for tweed!”). I don’t imagine there will be much follow-through on the lessons Wallace took away from Michael’s visit, but it was a pleasant-enough distraction.
In the end, the Dwight-Andy-Angela kerfuffle has reshuffled the deck in potentially interesting ways. Will Andy and Dwight continue their plotting or will their mutual betrayal lead to an unlikely alliance? So used to being the domineering prude, Angela finds herself in an unusually bad spot: Tagged as the office harlot, lorded over by former doormat Phyllis, absorbing abuse from the dim-witted likes of Kevin and Kelly. It isn’t easy to end long-standing relationships and find a fresh dynamic on a show, especially a sitcom. Tip of the hat to the writers for pulling it off.
• The bookend bits both fell pretty flat, especially the opening, which was Michael at his most cartoonishly stupid.
• Jim on Andy’s ignorance: “Eventually he’ll figure it out, when their kids have giant heads and beet-stained teeth.”
• The revelation that Angela had, in fact, yielded to Andy a couple of times was a good one. Unexpected yet plausible. And considering how Angela considers the missionary position a little risqué, I imagine any sexual encounter with Andy would fall somewhere short of actual sex.
• Dwight: “Do you love me?” Angela: “I already admitted that I do. Why are you making me repeat it?”
• Meredith: “I knew something bad was going to happen.” Oscar: “You said that yesterday.” Meredith: “Yeah, my neighbor got murdered.”
• “I will respect the results of the duel.” Of course you will, Angela.
• In honor of Dwight’s break with Angela, I present you a photo of all the Dwight bobbleheads you can handle. (Okay, there were no images for this episode available.)