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?


– 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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