The Office: "Frame Toby"
B+

The Office: "Frame Toby"

B+

The Office

"Frame Toby"

Season 5, Episode 8

When we last saw sad-eyed fan favorite Toby Flenderson he was laid up in a hospital somewhere South of the border, his plans to escape the cold grey prison of Dunder-Mifflin for someplace less redolent of romantic heartbreak having gone predictably awry. It appeared that we had seen the last of Toby, that Michael wouldn't have his almost preternaturally unimposing arch-nemesis to kick around anymore.

Scratch that, friends, as tonight saw Toby mope back into the lives of the Office gang as the reinstated Human Resources guy. It must have been agonizingly painful for Michael, who just a few episodes ago watched the greatest love of his life–the fair Holly–sprung from his greatest hate–the human resource department–only to transfer out of his life, perhaps for good. No wonder Michael responds to the sight of Toby back in his old digs with the kind of abject, blood-curdling terror most folks would reserve for discovering the dismembered remains of their immediate family.

I've been thinking an awful lot about Nixon as of late. I watched Frost/Nixon recently and am putting together a Nixon-themed Inventory and it struck me that Michael at his most devious cuts a perversely Nixonian figure, albeit one with a one-person enemies list: Toby. Dwight, meanwhile, functions as a one-man dirty tricks squad. He's Liddy and Hunt and Erlichman all wrapped up into one creepily intense beet-farming package. It also reminds me of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, another show where characters are always scheming and conspiring.

There is a look of intense concentration and surgical focus that Dwight gets whenever Michael introduces a sinister scheme that I've come to enjoy tremendously. In tonight's episode that ridiculous scheme involved trying to bait Toby into committing a fireable offense. Then again, isn't Michael's reign at Dunder-Mifflin little more than an endless stream of fireable offenses? That didn't keep Michael and his underboss Dwight from trying to bait Toby into either punching him or making an awkward embarrassing pass at Pam–or rather a second awkward, embarrassing pass at Pam. Needless to say, neither plan worked, though Kelly and Ryan really, really wanted to see Toby punch Michael, preferably hard and in the face.

So they resorted to an even more preposterous plan C–planting pot in Toby's drawer, then having Johnny Law come and bust him. It's been hinted that Toby might be something of a secret toker but Michael of course went upon his conniving with characteristic obliviousness, paying gruff blue-collar types hundreds of dollars for what was ultimately revealed to be a Caprese salad. Now I am known to enjoy me a Caprese salad but even I wouldn't pay five hundred dollars for one.

"Frame Toby" was all about petty and not so petty drama. On the petty side of the scale, an unbecomingly schoolmarmish Pam left a scolding note near the microwave after a mystery staffer left an unholy mess for others to clean up. Jim didn't share Pam's misplaced passion for uncovering and punishing the guilty party. There was a nifty scene where he gradually inched away from his beloved once she started waxing righteous about bringing the perpetrator to justice.

Jim, meanwhile, surprises Pam by buying his parent's old house, a dump by the quarry that is a little bit homey and quaint and a whole lot crappy. Jim purchased the house without telling Pam. As he showed Pam her new home there was an element of ambiguity as to whether she'd be delighted or horrified. On the plus side, her fiancé had bought her a home. On the downside, it was objectively a bit of a shit hole, with shag carpeting and a seriously disturbing clown painting that apparently ties the whole thing together.

This is Jim and Pam we're talking about, however, so of course she was delighted. I found Pam's reaction to the big surprise to be both disarmingly sweet and a little sentimental and sappy. Tonight's episode was good but not great, but there were two scenes that achieved greatness. In the first, Ryan breaks up with Kelly in the most narcissistic, self-absorbed manner possible. He tells her that she deserves better while he really deserves better and announces his intention to visit Thailand with some friends from high school or rather a high school–he could very well actually be going on a journey of sexploration with actual high school students.

Ever the gentleman, Ryan to break up the right way, so he proposes that they have sex one last time and that Kelly give him whatever free money she has lying around. Kelly being Kelly, she accepts his unconscionable terms. It was a hilarious fucking scene made even more wickedly funny by the matter-of-fact way the actors underplay Ryan's awfulness.

In the second great scene Dwight lays out his insanely complicated, convoluted conception of the perfect crime: it involves the theft of a chandelier from Tiffany's, a night of hot sex with the daughter of the owner of Tiffany's and thirty years of longing and misdirection both stateside and in continental Europe. It's clearly something Dwight has given way too much thought.

Grade: B+ Stray Observations– –I once again neglected to transcribe great dialogue from this episode so please do feel free to share the funny –Toby: back for good like the homeys in Take That? –I can only imagine the stash Creed keeps hidden in the office