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The Office: "Sabre"

For years, fans of The Office have pondered timeless questions like, “Why isn’t Michael Scott fired?” and “How has a tiny, customer service-driven company like Dunder-Mifflin stayed in business in our harsh, cruel, vicious, horrible, unfair, brutal economy?" We learned the answer to at least one of those queries tonight, as everyone’s favorite Pennsylvania paper company was purchased by a creepy monstrosity known as Sabre.

Yes, tonight’s episode was all about what David Bowie would call changes (possibly while stuttering for dramatic effect) as one era ended and another began. Like most changes, it was fucking terrifying for just about everyone involved. The episode began with the false promise that tends to accompany just about every corporate buyout, as Michael excitedly opened a box full of what he imagined were goodies for the office only to discover they weren’t intended for his coworkers after all. Michael tried to shove all the brand spanking newness back into the box but was thwarted because, in the immortal words of Dwight, he had opened the box like a primate of some sort. As someone who habitually opens things lowland gorilla-style I could relate.

The corporate bigwigs at Sabre immediately set about broadcasting mixed signals. They sent a tall, awkward geek with a Michael Scott-like lack of social graces to put a smiley face on the buyout along with a hilariously smarmy informational video hosted by Christian Slater that used a whole lot of fancy words and pretty images to say absolutely nothing. Then, in time-honored corporate tradition, it began cracking down on its employees by instituting a bunch of arbitrary policies and rules.

Michael, not surprisingly, chafed. He was geeked to be part of a corporation that could hire the likes of Christian Slater to narrate their corporate video but he could also sense his already fading slipping away from him by the moment. So he did what he historically does when feeling lost and scared: he appealed to an authority figure to make sense of a frightening, insane world.

In this case that was the recently unemployed David Wallace. I fucking loved the scenes in Wallace’s house as the usual dynamic between these two titans of industry was reversed. Suddenly Michael was the responsible one with a sense of purpose and direction and David was the lost, desperate soul just happy to have someone to talk to. This being a recession and all, I’ve had a number of friends who’ve lost jobs.

There’s always some weird part of me that envies these people. Just imagine how awesome it would be to not have to get up in the morning or go to work or worry about deadlines or performance reviews or any of the other hassles of the workaday world. You could do what David does: drink beer, hang out in his Jacuzzi, rock out with his son and dream up impractical ideas. Then, I imagine, it would get really fucking boring and after about a week or so it would get really fucking boring and unsatisfying and I’d start pining desperately for the security and structure of having to get up in the morning and go to work and worry about deadlines and performance reviews and all of the other hassles of the workaday world. Also, I love my fucking job. That makes the prospect of unemployment less appealing as well.

It doesn’t take long for even Michael to get freaked out by the aimless, post-employment David Wallace, especially after he asks him if he’d be interested in launching a sketchy-sounding product called Suck It.

In the B-story Jim and Pam go to a very prestigious, discriminating preschool for their unborn child; they’re super-impressed by the school until Jim walks in on its proprietor (character actor extraordinaire Joey Slotnick) using the bathroom. Then everything goes to shit. When I was eighteen I took a Tai Chi class at the local Jewish Community Center and had a similar experience. Tai Chi, incidentally, is martial arts for hippies. It’s the discipline for people who want to bore their opponent into submission through their slow, fluid gestures. Anywho, after class I stood behind the teacher in the urinal and was horrified to see that he wasn’t wearing any undergarments under his sweatpants. He was a little creepy to begin with but for some reason that freaked me out. I never went to Tai Chi ever again. Tonight’s episode captured the weird dynamic of being freaked out by someone’s bathroom habits for no good reason all too vividly.

Meanwhile, Jim and Pam 2.0, AKA Andy and Erin experienced some growing pains in their nascent romance as each party waited for the other to make the first move. Will these crazy kids ever get it together and realize they’re perfect for each other? Yes, yes they will. Probably sooner rather than later.

The recession has fucked all sorts of shit up but it’s been good for The Office. Wrestling with terrifying new financial realities has helped keep the show relevant and lively well into its sixth season. I’m excited about this current arc and look forward to more appearances from Kathy Bates, who did an awful lot with very little screen time as the faux-folksy, semi-terrifying head of Sabre.

Grade: A-

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