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

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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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.
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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".
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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.
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"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....
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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?
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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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I don't have problem with Brian's role on the show... I'll let everyone else talk about that. The best scene of either of the two episodes was the cold open for "Vandalism" I thought it was hysterical. Can you imagine working in the office and knowing that Darryl isn't at work but watching Erin go to extraordinary lengths to pretend he is? One of my top 10 favorite cold opens
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It was good but apperently you haven't watched seasons 1-7 because almost all of those were better then any current ones
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I've watched every episode of the Office and have seen every cold open (at least 4 times). That was the best one I've seen since Jim's staged the fake crime scene in Tallahassee. There are a lot of good ones in the first seven seasons, as well as a few from the eighth season, but I really enjoyed that one. Matter of opinion. I can name quite a few from the first 7 seasons that weren't as funny as the "Vandalism" cold open.
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No way - the funniest cold open was the season premiere of Season 7, when the entire cast lip-dubbed "Nobody but Me".
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The funniest was the fake fire drill cold open (Season 5) in "Stress Relief"
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It was good to see Eric Wareheim (from Tim and Eric "fame") as one of the job applicants. I see Tim Heidecker show up on other shows fairly frequently but I haven't seen Eric for quite a while.
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This is a classic scenario. Brian's just a reason for Jim and Pam to have another moment like Casino Night in the finale. Another moment that fans the flames even more than before and proves that they will be together for the long haul, even after this rough patch which they've been lucky to never have gone through before. And Brian's existence in the show makes a lot of sense. To know they've had his character planned since season 4 but they just couldn't execute the idea without "breaking" the show makes me completely comfortable with the concept. It's not just some 9th season gimmick. It's bringing the show full circle. If you can't see where this is going, I don't know what to tell you. He's not a real love interest, he's the catalyst for the endgame and he's necessary. Personally, I like this storyline. It feels more real. The Office just became appointment viewing for me again.
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This is certainly a gambit to bring everything around, to give us the opportunity for Jim and Pam to fall in love again and for us to fall in love with them again. I don't think there's an audience member out there that thinks Pam and Brian are going to get the happily ever after. But, in order to create that tension, there needs to be evidence of something. And, for lack of a better term, we have love interest. It has to be believable that something COULD happen or else what are we doing? It has to be something from which Jim could draw a conclusion which means Pam has to at least put herself in a position for bad things to happen. "Love" interest may be a strong term. A dalliance, a flirtation, an opportunity for wrong-doing. But do have something to sell between Pam and Brian for them to be able to bring it full circle.
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Totally agree and understand what you're saying. Love interest is a little strong but there definitely has to be the hint of him having that potential for the stakes to be raised. I kind of like it though, how Jim is going to see, through Brian, how he used to feel about Pam. And he's going to have to reconcile with himself that their married life is lacking the fire it used to have. I could see the writers toying with Pam and Brian a lot further but I agree that nobody thinks they'll get the happily ever after. It's gonna make me cringe to watch them push forward with this at times but at least I know why they're doing it and I have hope the final payoff of the story arc will be worth it. If they can recreate the magic of Casino Night, the finale will have made the last 2 seasons without Steve Carell worth it.
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I hate all the directions of The Office now. There are always these "zingers" from whomever that can be amusing but it's dead to me now. I'll somehow find the strength to finish off this old friend but a shame it's going out like this. Why they were afraid to just truly make Andy a leader and not give up on him is a brain scratcher to me. I feel there's no purpose to anyone. Kevin, Erin and Dwight are the only bright spots for me.
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Holy crap, I didn't even draw those recent parallels between the UK and US versions until you pointed them out at the end.

And I think Mose was brought back just so he could run. Seriously, the way he runs is the BEST.
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Pam's a cheater. Once a cheater always a cheater. 'nuf said
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holier than thou much?
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Friends logic (from Rachel's mom no less)
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Inaugural post on this site! I apologize in advance if what I am saying is nonsense or pointless jabbering (which is probably the case, but that's beside the point).

Seriously though, a couple of scenes during these two episodes struck me as being relatively unique and seldom-seen in the realm of The Office. For one (and I am glad you mentioned it during your review), the cold opening of the "Junior Salesman" episode (in which Pam apologizes to Brian for the unseen reprimand handed down to him for breaking protocol) may be the only example of an opening in the entire series where there was not a single moment intended to draw a laugh from the audience: no Jim prank on Dwight, no crazy conference meeting, no funny line just before cutting to the theme song sequence. Mind you, this is not to say that it was good or bad, just something that got me thinking right after the end of the opening.

In the Vandalism episode, I was surprised in that, even though I had a pretty good idea of where the heated scene between the warehouse worker and Pam was headed, I felt a momentary sense of shock when he charged at her. I suppose this could be attributed to the fact that The Office so rarely demonstrates raw anger as an underlying emotion and it certainly brought to mind when Roy attempted to attack Jim way back in the third season.

Oh, and to the reviewer: well-written analysis!
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Jim (Tim) has always been my favorite character on both series. I get how such immense changes in one's life can stress you to a breaking point but I don't like watching it and I don't like feeling it. It's very real for spouses to entertain emotional affairs when faced with distance and strife but it's not the story arc that I would ever choose for Jim and Pam. They are best when they are being fun and mischevious, pranking Dwight or creating conspiracies which in turn provides comic gold for me.
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this Brian thing is refreakindiculous. if these are the storylines and plot twists they're going to give us then I'm glad it's ending. there's certain things you DO NOT MESS WITH! and "Jim and Pam" is one of them. RIDICULOUS!
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I don't like what they're doing with Brian, but in the way that I'm invested in it and want to see where they take it. The Office writers have managed to craft him into a character that has been there all along pretty seamlessly. Just because we haven't seen him on-screen doesn't mean he hasn't been interacting with Pam when the cameras are off.

Pam won't cheat on Jim, but if this is their test as a couple, Jim might think she did, which will lead to things spiraling out of control. Guess we'll see.
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First, I might have to follow you on Twitter, because that made me laugh.

For some reason, the Brian thing doesn't bother me. It will likely serve it's purpose, by making Jim show his love again, and make us all happy. It makes sense to me. I mean, even though it is convoluted, and maybe too much, I get it. It makes sense for the 4th wall break to happen now, because he is crushing on Pam, and she was the one in pain. All relationships hit that fight that is petty, but they put more meaning behind it. I think that was what they were trying to illustrate. The fight was possibly nothing, but it happened at a culmination of the times when Jim was stressed and Pam was needy. Neither of them made it better, but Jim being an ass, made it worse.

I have to admit, I've been dying to read your review all day. I remember you throwing the affair or something out there,and I remember thinking, "I will be so pissed if they do that, how could they make it work?" But this? This fits for me. I'm not saying it would be excusable, I just get that it would have to be someone Pamknew, that she likely felt knew her, and even though Brian was faceless to us,to her, he's always shared some of those things with her. So I'm actually excited to see what happens.

Thank you for mentioning how they had turned Kevin into someone who I'm surprised can feed himself from someone who was just not that bright.

Great review. I just chuckle that I was so against this "affair" possibility that yup were for, now the shoe is on the other foot. Not that you necessarily care if I love your review. But hey, credit where it is due.
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Great comment, and I agree for the most part. I just didn't 'feel' that fight like I would during other JAM moments, only because it seemed a bit out of character and forced. But it was still pretty powerful.

It's just kind of confusing, because it's hard to really hate Brian, because he does seem like a good guy, but how can you ever root against TV's golden couple? I don't think it's wise to make Brian seem like the 'good guy' much longer, or they run the risk of destroying one of the major centerpieces for the entire show...but then again, I've heard there are "how can you come back from that?" moments, but this should not be one of them.
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I have a feeling that Jim will fix it all. They are making Jim seem even more jerklike, because he's practically single and playing video games while Pam is swamped with responsibility. I don't think Pam will do anything. But I think this is their way to add drama to the couple to make us feel invested in them. Sometimes, there are good guys in situations like these. Jim was one. Brian might be too. By that, I mean he might just love her, and be okay with being her friend. Maybe he won't, and he will make a move. Pam is very vulnerable. I just see Jim realizing his love for his family and making some grand gesture. At least I hope so.
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I hate that they want us to hate Jim. Jim is like the nicest character on Tv. And that phone call was a little bit forced. No matter how stressed, no one speaks like that, especially Jim. And I hate Brian. No matter how nice he is. Pam is married and have two kids with Jim.
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I agree. The last person on the show I'm going to hate is Jim. You can't mold a guy into one of the most consistenly likeable characters on the show over the course of 8 and a half seasons and turn him into the object of ridicule in a few episode and expect it to take.
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I also agree, after this long all Jim really has to do to get back into the audiences good graces is to apoligize to Pam, for them to kiss and make up and have one last really good prank on Dwight. The only way for us to really hate him is if he does something unthinkably awful, and it's not in character for him.
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