The Office "Junior Salesman" / "Vandalism" Review: We Need to Talk About Brian

By Nick Campbell

Feb 01, 2013

The Office S09E13 & S09E14: "Junior Salesman" & "Vandalism"

Hey, everyone. I'm going to level with you. This week was going to be different. My initial, gut reaction to the ending of both of last night's episodes was a lot of yelling, the kind of yelling that brought concern from my neighbors, the kind of yelling you hear when you find out your pet has eaten your favorite book/dress/thing you own that's animal food-sized. I immediately tweeted about the ending of "Junior Salesman"...

...and was reduced to a muttering mad man by the end of "Vandalism." The beginning of this missive was going to be:


You can't be complicit in this, can you? You can't let this show, this thing in which you've invested years of emotion and sympathy, where you know the characters better than actual blood relations, do this to us. What can we send to the NBC offices so we can make them stop? Post-it notes? Staplers in Jell-O? Flonkerton boots? We have to mobilize. We have to do something. This is crap. I won't stand for it.


But then I left. I took a walk and wandered around the mean streets of L.A. I found some peace, got a cupcake, watched a dude puke in the gutter. My neighborhood can be sketchy.

By the time I sat back down I had some clarity. I felt ready to discuss what The Office is doing with Brian and Pam in a rational, open manner. Mostly.

First off, I think "Vandalism" was the more important episode of the evening, though "Junior Salesman" was strong. Last week's "Customer Loyalty" was such a bore and ended with what, at the time, seemed like an unmotivated break in the form of the show. "Junior Salesman" featured Mose (I knew Michael Schur couldn't stay away) and I always enjoy a good dose of Mose. It also had a good helping of Dwight and Jim, nurturing one of the most important relationships left on the series, even if it's in dribs and drabs as the writers maintain Jim's Athlead plot.

But the big thing to take away from both episodes is the Brian situation. The relatively uneventful teaser was ham-handedly placed to make sure that you remembered that Brian broke the rules to talk to Pam at the end of "Customer Loyalty" (and to establish that Meredith doesn't mind hitting on the crew, particularly a guy with a low-hanging-fruit title like "boom operator") but ended with a, "That was it?" feeling. No real shenanigans. Just a low-angle, ill-framed shot to make it look like it was especially candid, so candid that even the crew didn't know it was happening. The lack of a real punchline (except for Meredith's bit, after which there were acres of airtime after Brian walks away) forced the audience to consider and digest what they just heard.

We're getting a lot of Brian in a small amount of time. We went from not knowing he even existed to watching him step into an integral role in less than an hour's worth of episode time. I'm happy that there's at least some motivation to Brian's interjection in "Customer Loyalty," but troubled by a plot that feels like it's being foisted upon us late in the season and very, very late in the series.

It makes sense that, if anyone on The Office is going to develop a crush on Pam, it's going to be someone we've never seen before. Pete's already sweet on Erin so they can replay Jim and Pam and, much as I would love to see Creed try to tap that, I'm certain that's not an avenue NBC would let the show pursue. Creating a triangle, real or perceived, for Jim and Pam was even something I suggested at the beginning of the season to spice things up, and I wouldn't mind this ingenious way to find a new interest that's always been there. But I think what I don't like about it is that we got no indication until that petty fight (I'm maintaining that it was petty) that this could be a thing.

"Junior Salesman" ended with shots of Brian holding the boom while Jim talked about it being important to sit near and see people you like at work since you spend so much time with them. Suddenly, with this episode, the documentary crew has sacrificed Brian as one of their own and made him one of them. I'm trying not to overthink it, but it's an interesting point that the "crew" chose to show footage of their boom operator with a Jim voiceover. You wonder if that was intended to be a statement by the filmmakers or if it was just something for us as the audience of The Office, with no statement to be made by the usually invisible presence on the show.

The end of "Vandalism" is, of course, important since Brian officially became a character outside of the crew and, no longer employed by a set of professional standards, a free agent. Earlier in the episode, Brian used the opportunity to be flirty by tapping Pam with the boom to let her know she wasn't alone and then got himself fired by defending her honor and protecting her from harm. Brian's been in five scenes within the past three episodes and he's demonstrated himself as compassionate, understanding, a man of humor, and a man willing to take up arms for this lady. He's also one more thing: present.

We've talked about how Andy has been so deeply villainized in absentia this season, becoming the dastardly do-wrong who doesn't deserve Erin while Pete vies for her attention. Jim, too, has revealed nasty sides of himself. The (petty) fight, the neglect, the finding freedom away from his family. None of those things would seem so serious if it weren't for the madly passionate boom operator taking care of the ladies on the homefront while Jim is in a faraway land.

Ultimately, that's the formula for the romantic arcs on this show. It's a permanent revolution of the meek men (the proletariat) constantly and righteously upending the established and neglectful men (the bourgeoisie) in the lives of The Office's womenfolk, except here the proletariat has a history of becoming the bourgeoisie. Andy pined for Erin while she was with Gabe, the act of pining itself humbling the character into a sensitive position. Eventually, he took over and became that neglectful boyfriend times a hundred. Now Pete is the proletariat. Darryl wanted Val but she was with someone, so the writers brought down his bravado and tuned his sensitive side and, suddenly Darryl went from being a wealth of confidence to something more meek, transforming him into an underdog to cheer for.

Jim Halpert is obviously the American prototype for this on the series (not counting the original prototype, Tim from the U.K. original). And, though he's been shown to be kind of a jerk lately (and a "sloppy hobo" jerk at that), he's definitely not as bad as Roy or Gabe or, later, Andy. No one could imagine that Jim and Pam don't end up in a happily-ever-after scene. But this is the ultimate test of the show's romantic theory. Can they make this work? Will there be people who 'ship Pam and Brian? Or is it too late to make that storyline into something the audience can believe in?



NOTES


– These two episodes felt so much sharper than last week's trial in Dullsville. Even Nellie had some nice zingers, even though usually, everything that comes out of her mouth lands with a thud.

– Mose wasn't the only guest spot in Dwight's group of super friends. I'm just happy to see Badger doing well.

– Three cheers for Kevin! Both episodes featured moments where Kevin rose above his fellow characters. He was the straight man for Meredith's punchline about stinking and then told off the Senator for being a jackass with respect to both Angela and Oscar. A return to form for a character that was spinning out of control. There was a while where I thought Kevin was just going to reveal to everyone that he has paraphilic infantilism and has ordered his new adult-sized high chair.

– My favorite Pam is crazy-eyed Pam. "I want to go scorched earth on that guy's face."

– CreedWatch: Walking out with the weirdos was funny but his line in "Vandalism" made me laugh so hard I almost missed the rest of the scene: "6783 is also a good time. Less Mileage."

– I'm with Darryl. I'll allow Erin to do jumping jacks as a distraction even if I don't have to be a sneaky-sneak. Also, I need a Bear-yl I can take into work.

– Jim being an inconsiderate slob (and then being a jerk about it) is completely believable. Darryl may be a little possessive (it's mine) but, to be fair, that stuff IS his. Though I might just be sympathizing with him as a man who suffered all his food being eaten by roommates while living in the dorm.

– Dwight was at his most Gareth during "Junior Salesman." Combine that with the strife between Jim and Pam and the news that Roseanne Barr has been cast as an agent to help Andy's show business career—are we going to get a nod to the U.K. Office series finale?

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  • fierdog2818 Feb 09, 2013

    I don't suppose they'll have thought it through, but I wonder if Brian was one of the crew who followed Pam to New York? I can't really take any tv characters called Brian seriously because I always imagine a talking white dog.

    I seem to recall Jim having a nice tidy house when we were there for a BBQ back in like season 2. Did he just become a slob?

    The lack of continuity suggests that the writers are just out of ideas.

  • hpfan06 Feb 05, 2013

    All I'll say is that Jim and Pam better still be together by the time this show is over or I will have lost all of my respect for the writers - if they take 8 years to build up Jim and Pam, and then just have it all crash down in the last half of this season, it would be unthinkable (and just awful writing).

  • angeleys151 Feb 04, 2013

    What I'm hoping the producers are trying to do because it's the only way I'll stomach this story line: Jim and Pam need to be on the brink of divorce so they can come through it to have a happily ever after. All the little stuff like distance, stress, exhaustion are pulling them apart, and pushing them in separate directions. Brian may be the big push for the audience to see that if Jim and Pam can over come this they can over come anything.

  • mrjimmyjames Feb 05, 2013

    That's probably what they're doing. I'm suprised that they didn't have them hit this rough patch a lot sooner so they could drag out the drama all season. The Office was best when there was drama concerning the two of them and I think that's just what's going on... but if they're not together in the end, I will be pretty pissed.

  • Klirro Feb 04, 2013

    I actually find the Brian arc very believable. Whether or not that was the writers' intention way back in the first few seasons (I doubt it), I can imagine Brian as a part of the situations we remember from back then. The unsettling thing about his showing up is that we've seen Pam and Jim's relationship develop through nine years of inside jokes and office pranks, and now we're realising that maybe there's been another person who's been there this whole time, and part of those same jokes. And as such, I think the insertion of Brian to shake things up a bit is absolutely genius. It's not like when Gabe and Erin started dating, where they had no chemistry at all and it wasn't any kind of genuine threat to Erin and Andy. This actually feels like it could have some bearing, due to this connection that feels believable. That's not to say that I don't want Jim and Pam to end up together, because duh.

  • JT_Kirk Feb 02, 2013

    The beginning of the first episode here sent a strong, quotable thought right to my brain: "and the house of cards comes crashing down." Yet it didn't end up feeling that way by the end of the second episode, it was more like when a house of cards only partly collapses, so you're left with a few levels intact and a few levels half toppled.

    The stuff with Brian didn't make me puke in the gutter, so I guess that wasn't me, Nick, but it did make me disappointed that they're taking Pam down this road so close to the end. Perhaps it's creating a foundation for a big finale showdown that will cement Pam & Jim's happiness and leave them stronger, but honestly it rings terribly false and casts an ugly shadow across the entire series. Was everything Pam & Jim did merely for the cameras, are they different people off camera with wider interests and larger character flaws?

    As for showing Brian with Jim's voiceover, it seemed like once Brian inserted himself actively into the situation, he stopped being an objective documentarian and instead became a personality in the office's lives, hence he had to be fired, and on that basis I accepted it - Brian was no longer part of the doc crew, he had slipped into the monkey pit and was now covered in feces, he had been tainted by the world that was supposed to have been only observed. But more than anything, he has to go. He has to return to his own life, not pine after Pam, and yet of course it doesn't feel like that's going to happen at all.


    That's an interesting and disturbing analysis of romantic writing on this show, one that rings true and yet I suspect is being done on a subconscious level in the writers room.


    I didn't feel like these episodes were sharper. If the stuff with Dwight sticks, it could prove to be an interesting turning point, but honestly I doubt we'll see that level of emotional change from him. Great to see Doctor Thaddeus S. Venture live on the screen again though.

    Kevin did indeed carry simple moments to perfection for the second and third episodes in a row here.

  • mrjimmyjames Feb 02, 2013

    I actually like the idea of introducing someone from the documentary crew and even as a possible love interest... as long as Jim and Pam wind up together in the end. But it's a fantastic twist that cleverly turns the show upside down. I'd love to see more of the crew before shows end as long as they don't go too far when breaking the fourth wall and make it like "Glamorama".

  • LittleLostPup Feb 02, 2013

    Our little Dwight is growing up. Sure he had his immature moments, but watching him realize that his friends were not qualified for the job and watching him turn down Angela because he knew that she was just using him were good moments. Even his suits are growing up... I'm not sure if the original plan had been to mature him up a bit to carry his own show, or if they are setting him up for being the new manager, but I kind of like it. I also like how seamlessly Jim helped Dwight, sure he busted his chops a little but he understood Dwight's problem and helped him out pretty quickly. I like that alot.

    I like the Brian idea, at least its more believable than if they tried to introduce a person that Pam just met. Though I really think it doesn't bother me because at this point we all know that nothing serious is going to happen. My bet is on the camera crew catching them on camera having lunch or a cup of coffee and its gonna be the catalyst for Jim realizing that his priorities aren't entirely where they should be.

    I'm glad Oscar is starting to feel used and Kevin told the senator that he was a bad person. Everyone took this whole affair thing a little too in stride and I don't like it.

    Am I the only one that really doesn't like Daryl? He seems kind of jerky, they took way too much of a turnaround with the Val thing. He went from sweet and earnest to wanting to dump her so he wouldn't be tied down when he went to Philly.

  • torque_smacky Feb 02, 2013

    "What can we send to the NBC offices so we can make them stop? Post-it notes? Staplers in Jell-O? Flonkerton boots?"

    I read that in Dwight's voice....

  • TiniTinyTony Feb 02, 2013

    Another spot on review, Mr. Campbell. I don't know if I'm going to make it to the finale.

    At this point in the ninth season I don't care if you have Brett Favre on the boom mike and you show him giving a baseball to Warren, I'm going hate him with all my heart and still love Jim. I know Jim hasn't been the best husband as of late, but nobody is perfect. Couples make mistakes and they work through their problems and become stronger, OR they give up and go their separate ways. I understand that the writers want to keep us guessing on the ultimate fate of Jim and Pam, but don't tarnish all they have fought for by throwing a potential love interest into the mix. It is counter productive to everything that has been built in the past 8 seasons. We have the Oscar/Senator/Angela triangle and the Andy/Erin/Pete triangle. Do we really need another triangle?

  • Kids_Table Feb 02, 2013

    I think they've done a good job of establishing Brian and making him likable, but I feel like I have whiplash from the sudden turnaround. Twists work best when seeds are planted, which was obviously not the case here.

    Another sudden turn around: Kevin.

    It's like midway through the season the writers got it together and figured out how to give Pam a belivable long-standing love interest, and drop the kevin-is-an-idoit bit. That must have been a good writer's meeting. But is it too little too late? Because to me, the Pam/Jim/Brian thing is feeling forced (although it is nice to have not-an-idoit Kevin back).

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