The Office "Couples Discount" Review: The Rise and Fall of the Nard-dog
There are few characters on television who bring out our humanity, remind us that we are all a common people, unify us in a single, unanimous, bestial hatred for one guy. That guy right now is Andy Bernard.
Dear reader, you and I may not see eye to eye on everything that's happened this season. The comments came alive after "Customer Loyalty" sparked a controversy over whether putting a face to the show's documentary crew was a good thing or a heinous crime against television (I may still be bitter). There has even been some debate as to whether Nellie is the living worst. Well, that can be put to bed. Because there is a living worst and it's the villain this show has painstakingly developed during the past fifteen episodes.
It's not distance that made our heart grow darker. Part of our disgust is thanks to the craftsmanship of the show's writers, honed in their attempt to make Andy a reviled character. However, some of his arc has made it seem like he was lost to sea long before he stepped on the boat. Replacing Michael Scott hasn't been an easy task and Andy, as a character, has been forced to sample a number of different personalities to try to fill the void. He's been sensitive and compassionate, heartless and selfish, and oblivious and lonely. He's had to shoulder the overstock Michael jokes while also maintaining the imminent dastardly persona he would fully adopt during his three-month absence. If you were to look at this season so far and focus only on Andy, you would feel like The Office was testing out some alternate dimension theories. It's kind of like that Jet Li movie The One, except I hope all the different Andys meet and destroy each other in what I assume would be an a cappella Mexican standoff.
What "Couples Discount" did was reassure us that, no, our assumptions about The Office being a better show with Andy gone were not wrong. I'd like to think the episode addressed that, too, by suggesting the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin had never been better than when the Turd-dog wasn't around. It didn't help Andy's cause that "Couples Discount" portrayed him as possibly the most schizophrenic he's ever been in a single episode.
He vacillated between being an entitled prick (the balls on the guy who dips out for three months but browbeats coworkers for taking a long lunch) and desperately pawing after Erin as she slipped out of his grasp. We can look at this as the basic thesis of Andy as a character, post-Michael Scott: The man is tragically flawed with selfishness.
We may have been duped over the years, with The Office's romantic theories softening Andy in order to place him in the ongoing cycle of underdogs attempting to win ladies on this show (both with Angela and with Erin), but he's always been a douche. Infuse that self-serving smugness with the suggestion of power and maybe this is the result. What I've been referring to as schizophrenic may just be the most selfish person alive dealing consistently with the situations of his life.
Andy's unevenness led to one of two satisfying events in this episode: movement in the Pete and Erin... thing. Their painfully repetitive holding pattern finally broke up so they could approach for a landing after Andy declared his manifesto of selfish love. His idea of a relationship allowed that two people could be happy but not necessarily at the same time—a theory that benefits him—and was easily countered by Pete saying he only wants Erin to be happy, no matter what that means for Pete. Good line, Pete. But it felt like a fast-forward.
I kind of felt like I'd missed an episode somewhere. Last I remember, Pete and Erin were still denying their mutual crush, even to each other. But, from the beginning of this episode, Pete talked about how he'd be put out to pasture if Erin chose Andy, and Erin apologized to Pete when she couldn't break up with Bernard But maybe I just have selective memory and only the Pam and Brian stuff is sticking.
Which leads me to the other satisfying event, Jim and Pam building to The Fight. "Couples Discount" pushed the sexual tension between Pam and Brian aside (mostly) so that we could focus more on what's important: Jim and Pam ignoring their own static. Sure, there was that subtle suggestion that Brian is single (and, presumably, on the prowl for Pam), but I'm more concerned with Jim coming to terms with how much he's hurt the family by splitting from them three days a week and leaning on Pam to hold everything together while he's gone. I love that the writers even let Jim and Pam address how big a fight is coming and how important it is. "Put up your dukes, Beesley." It was almost sweet, how nervous they were about heading into the Thunderdome. The exchange marked the best communication they've had in weeks.
So, if they know they're about to have it out, do they drop the kids off at a grandparent's house for the evening? If you know you're headed into battle and you know it's going to be a big deal, does that change how you fight? When you know you have problems to work out and you're both willing to address them, does that affect your approach? Part of me hopes we'll get to see the fight and that it'll come off like the big Friday Night Fight on Gilmore Girls—lengthy, funny, and emotionally charged, with a broken formula to emphasize the importance (for the Friday Night Fight, that meant breaking from the show's usual wider, postcard-worthy shots to going handheld and POV). Chances are, though, we won't even get to see the big showdown, or it'll end before it even begins.
The whole of "Couples Discount" wasn't seminal but it was, more or less, satisfying. Andy returning is obviously important, as may be a path toward redemption if that's in the cards, but on the whole we just got to relax a little bit, and now things can finally, mercifully, move forward again.
– "Goodbye, chunky lemon milk." There's no CreedWatch this week so that quote from Kevin will have to do, even if it did hover in that gray area between simple man and simpleton. Okay, it's just Kevin being a flat-out idiot. Dude must have the constitution of a naval warship.
– The nail salon plot seemed like something jammed in with the rest of the episode. The writers needed an excuse to get everyone out of the office so they worked it in, giving us Nellie's predictable joke, Darryl and Oscar's almost political (but still predictable) joke, and a bunch of women tittering over Angela's tiny feet. It was dull. It felt like an intermission to the rest of the episode.
– Andy did everything dastardly in this episode short of tying Erin to the railroad tracks. Losing the White Pages account? Asking for paychecks (how does he not have direct deposit?) for a job he didn't perform? The browbeating? Asserting his authority despite taking a sabbatical that undermined it? Even Ellis from Smash was like, "Whoa, buddy. Dial it down a notch."
– The most egregious thing Andy might've done is insert himself into New Girl's theme song. Where do you get the right, sir?
– Pam actually demanding that Jim fight with her might be the most aggressive thing she's ever done for this relationship.
– Pete can't take the phrase "flesh hoover." Pansy.
– I really liked Jim's reactions to Brian's insinuations. He could've been mad about the connection Brian and Pam had while he was away, but he was more concerned with what he'd missed and how he hadn't been there for Pam. Their relationship allows The Office's writers to negotiate different aspects of a marriage since Jim and Pam's is built on trust and mutual respect. There's no one trying to pull the wool over the other. Jim can be disappointed here without being jealous, despite what we know and what he hasn't pieced together.
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