One of the things that makes Michael Scott so likeable despite his never-ending parade of faux pas, buffoonery and bad ideas is that he often does the wrong things for the right reasons. Sort of. In tonight’s kick-ass episode of The Office, Michael must confront the consequences of a terrible decision made a decade earlier.
Ten years ago Michael promised to pay for the college educations of a group of elementary school students collectively known as “Michael Scott’s Tots”. Michael wanted to inspire the kids but he also loves playing the hero, even when it entails making promises he can’t possibly keep. Michael is a prisoner of instant gratification. He lives in the moment, oblivious to the ramifications of his actions.
At this point the Office verisimilitude brigade might wonder, who on Earth would allow a manager at a Scranton paper company to make such a ridiculous promise? How did they think a man of exceptionally modest means, who’d probably have trouble paying for his own children’s secondary education, could pay for the expensive college tuition of fifteen strangers?
Michael’s stumbling, unconvincing answer is that he imagined he’d be wealthy beyond his wildest dreams by age forty. But the truth is that Michael Scott and Scott’s Tots engaged in mutually beneficial self-deception. Michael allowed poor kids to imagine he’d be their deep-pocketed, unlikely savior and they deluded themselves into thinking a middle manager could make their dreams come true.
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But before Michael could come clean he first had to endure the guileless exuberance and unrestrained joy of students convinced that he was the magic man with the keys to their future. They sang, they danced, they rapped, they offered heartrending testimonials about how the pseudo-divine intervention of their “guardian angel” helped them resist the allure of drugs and dropping out. They all unintentionally conspired to make Michael feel like the worst human being in the world.
Ah, but it is difficult to shame a man as shameless as Michael Scott so he didn’t seem too torn up when he confessed that he wouldn’t be able to pay for their college tuitions after all but would be happy to provide them with the world’s worst consolation prize—lithium batteries to power their laptops should they show some initiative and get to college on their own.
Michael’s accomplice on his sad voyage of soul-crushing disappointment was Kelly Erin Harron, whose character comes into sharper focus every week. She knew damn well that Michael wouldn’t be able to live up to his lofty promises, yet adorably got swept up in the excitement and exhilaration of his beautiful lie all the same.
As is his nature, Michael was casually cold if not cruel to Kelly Erin; he did nothing to hide his conception of her as a pallid replacement for Pam yet they shared a moment late in the episode when she confessed her poignantly pathetic dream (she nurses vague desires to become an accountant despite her incompetence with numbers) and Michael finally offered her a hard-won compliment. She also helped Michael see the upside of his terrible deception; a disproportionate number of Scott's tots were headed to college, even if their would-be sugar daddy wouldn't be of much assistance once they made it to the college of their choice.
Michael wasn’t the only Office manager whose best intentions went horribly awry. In the episode’s B story, Dwight, in a fit of Machiavellian maneuvering, tricks Jim into staging an Employee of the Month contest that Jim, and then Pam, accidentally ends up winning. It’s an elaborate ruse to humiliate Jim and get him fired that backfires when David Wallace’s anger peters out quickly and he forgives Jim for his supposed transgression.
It was a plot thread that afforded Dwight an opportunity to do surprisingly accurate, unconscionably mean impersonations of Stanley and Toby, both of whom were ostensibly shocked, yes shocked by Jim’s actions. It further paid off when Ryan ended the episode by offering to join forces with Dwight to bring down Jim. Ryan hasn’t been given much to do this season; he’s always funny, but he seldom scores more than a few lines per episode. Hopefully that is about to change.
In a killer cold open, an uncharacteristically stern and serious Michael chastises Andy for his extensive use of baby talk. In a twist, Michael behaves like an adult but his cold managerial pose instantly dissipates when Andy compliments him on his terrible, terrible Elvis voice. I felt implicated by this bit, since I too periodically indulge in a terrible Elvis voice for no discernible reason. Terrifyingly, there’s a little Michael Scott in each of us.
—“Thank you a lot”
—“Must be hackers”
—“I bring good news. Like when I told those kids I would pay for college.”
—“Some people have selfish dreams, or wet dreams…”
—“Hold on, they’re lithium!”
—“Guys, I’m starting to think Pam isn’t even pregnant.”
—“What do you want from this job, assuming the company doesn’t go out of business?”
—If there’s a lot of Dwight in Andy, there’s a fair amount of Michael Scott as well.