"Koi Pond" was not a member of the all-time greatest episodes team for The Office (the plotting was a little too scattered), but it was another damn fine episode in what’s shaping up to be a damn fine season. It sort of seems like sometime around the middle of its fourth season, The Office just realized that people loved its characters almost more than they loved its jokes and just started to lean heavily on creating interesting storylines for them. That led to the great, occasionally amazing fifth season, a season that lived and died by its plotting and story arcs but a season that felt so epic within the confines of what The Office could be that it occasionally felt like a different show than the one that had become so popular.
This season, The Office has ramped down the stakes considerably. Sure, Jim and Pam got married in a big, event episode, but most of the storylines have been centered on believable workplace conflicts. There have been awful meetings and workplace politics and things like that, but for the most part, the show feels like it’s really trying to return to its roots, even as it’s pushing very slowly into some new territory. The long scenes at the meeting where Michael made a list of everything that everyone couldn’t be mocked for felt sort of like something the show had done before, but the fact that it hadn’t is kind of a compliment. This is a show that has such confidence in its voice that it’s rare to see it make egregious missteps.
One of the things I’ve been insisting for a while now is that The Office’s major plot arc is the story of how Jim becomes Michael eventually. It’s the only way the show can really survive once Steve Carell leaves to pursue a movie career (you know it’s going to happen), and it’s a pretty brilliant strategy to make Michael more sympathetic retroactively. Jim was the series’ point-of-view character coming in, the guy who could always be counted on to be the one character who reacted like the audience did to Michael’s shenanigans, but as the show deepened who Michael was and explained how he’d never been fired from his job, they made it obvious that at one time, Michael was a pretty likable employee until he became the boss and that fatal flaw of needing to be liked made him the worst boss ever.
The show was also deepening Jim as this went on. Much as he was the point-of-view character, he could be kind of a dick from time to time, and his relationship with Pam could be almost relentlessly cute. (One of my few complaints about the series in recent seasons has been that their relationship has never felt like it’s deepened beyond the mutual crush the two shared in early seasons.) And he had his insecurities. Maybe he didn’t need to be liked like Michael did, but he had a real need to feel like people respected him, and it’s that need that’s sending him slowly down the path of Michael-ness now that he’s a co-manager. It’s the show doing Michael Scott: The Early Years without ever doing a cloying flashback episode, and that’s pretty impressive.
The whole plot where Jim was going to go handle an appointment on his own and the people at the appointment wanted both him and Michael there, all of which led to Michael falling into a koi pond, was a pretty good example of the show heading in one direction and then faking toward another. If the plotting felt a little scattered, it might have been because there was a lot of stuff to cram into one episode, but it flowed mostly, and enough of it was amusing that I was willing to let it all slide by. (Though the episode was probably inconvenienced by having the opening Halloween bit, which was funny for Darryl’s inability to identify anyone’s costumes but ended with one of those bits where you don’t quite buy that Michael would be so stupid as to do. The whole thing took up a lot of time, making what happened in the rest of the episode feel smooshed. But that’s what you get when your network wants a “Halloween Thursday.”)
Basically, the plot is this. Jim’s upset that Michael is going with him on the sales call. When the two get back, Michael’s drenched. Gradually, it becomes obvious that he fell into the koi pond, and when others start to mock him for it, he calls a meeting where everyone writes what they don’t want to be made fun of for on the white board (including Erin being an orphan and Meredith having slept with a terrorist). After Michael attempts to take Jim’s advice to just embrace the stupidity and let everyone tell him it was no big deal worked to a point, he took things too far and reminded everyone that Michael’s life has mostly been lonely and empty. And then the security camera footage Meredith secured showed that Jim was at fault, since he could have helped Michael out. It all ended with everyone making fun of Jim, and all was well again.
See what I mean about that all being a lot to cram into one episode, particularly for a show where the plotting often kind of rambles along? None of that is exactly badly plotted or unbelievable, but it all went by so quickly that it occasionally felt like the episode was trying too hard to set some of it up. It also didn’t help that there were cutaways to the story where Pam and Andy were making a sales call in Wilkes-Barre and kept getting mistaken for a couple. While this was less a storyline than a quick little runner, it took a while to take off, though the final payoff, which served to humanize the oft-abrasive Andy by showing how lonely he, too, is, almost made everything worth it.
But even though a lot of the plotting was a little sloppy in the episode (and, again, I blame the Halloween prologue), the episode as a whole was still very good, simply because the show remembered that all of these people are people who behave in certain ways and come into conflict in other ways. Even when a storyline feels overstuffed, The Office has been keeping its huge ensemble well-served this season, giving pretty much everyone something to do, even the usually underused Meredith. If this makes it harder to do over-the-top comic wackiness or complicated plots, that’s OK, so long as we get to hang out in Scranton for a little while.
- Where’s Nathan, you ask? He’s off doing other things, and that’s why y’all got me this week. He’ll be back for next week’s Office extravaganza, sure to kick off an action-packed month of sweeps.
- Ellie Kemper is rapidly turning into my favorite person alive. I like how the show’s playing the tension of everyone having to get used to a new receptionist.
- "This is a surgery with an octopus and a burn victim."
- "Here is an old man and a golf dude and then the old crone from Drag Me to Hell."
- "Yes. I am the popular social networking site known as Bookface."
- "Now my head hurts. Feels like I held in a sneeze."
- "The very idea of us being together made you burst out laughing like you just bit into an Adam Sandler jelly sandwich."
- "A carp is both a fish and a term for complaining. They're mocking you with wordplay."
- "Sex with a terrorist."
- "I love to dance." "I love to watch him dance."
- "You're paying way too much for worms, man. Who's your worm guy?"
- "Your fantasy involves comparison shopping birthing classes?"