The Office "Paper Airplane" Review: The Power of Love

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The Office S09E20: "Paper Airplane"


Ah, miscommunication between lovers: the bread and butter of the sitcom. It was what drove a large part of "Paper Airplane" in the continuing Friends-ification of the The Office (where principal characters pair off with each other). Three couples, four if you count both of Dwight's, struggled to understand one another in the face of misinterpreted cues, ambiguous gestures, and therapy-inspired language. Most of which was surprisingly rote even for a late-series episode of The Office.

Dwight's situation felt the most trodden. The show's writers have lazily tried to keep the momentum going for Angela and Dwight since "Moving On," with a bit of jealousy from Angela upon meeting Esther, but since "The Farm," Dwight hasn't really mentioned that night on the porch. Combine that with the show's scheduling ("Moving On" was in mid-February, with a couple breaks in between) and it feels like a long time since Dwight and Angela as an item was relevant. But here we are, as the series winds down, the show begging you to remember and feel the feels.

That's not to say that, by now, we don't expect those two crazy kids to get together and for Dwight to find out her giant baby is a Schrute baby. In fact, if it weren't for the history, that child, and the chemistry between the two, the actual story would be downright confusing. The Office is leaning heavily on the persistent viewer to connect the dots after seemingly abandoning the arc entirely.

Now that they're trying to revive it, though, it seems so basic. Dwight is into Angela! Oh no, Esther showed up early! They were in the same room at the same time! They might suspect something! It reminded me of "Casino Night" with Jan and Carol, except Michael's handling of that situation was intentionally middle school, given that he's an emotional child. Dwight trying to dump the competition for Angela while being uncomfortably affectionate with Esther seemed out of character for a man who generally pursues what he wants. It's not the juggling or the waiting around for Angela that felt weird so much as his being uncomfortable given his proclivity to conviction.

This is also in light of Esther being a little too underdeveloped to count as any real competition for Angela. The Office trades in this underdog love story where the meek shall (eventually) inherit the person for whom they pine. That was simple with the show's other examples because the other person has always been kind of a jerk: Roy (vs. Jim), Andy (vs. Dwight), Gabe (vs. Andy), Val's boyfriend (vs. Darryl), Andy (vs. Pete). But Esther has only three qualities: She's pretty, she's nice, and she's a farmer. She's an obvious placeholder, for you and me as qualified experts on The Office who know Dwight and Angela's history and to the casual observer who basically only know her as a face.

The Pete and Erin story was a blip by comparison, but worth mentioning. With the innocence she projects (which walks the fine line between the juvenilia of other characters and the sweetness of the mentally handicapped Kevin), it's sometimes easy to forget that she has a dark history to her. She's kind of messed up. Seeing this competitive side wasn't necessarily unmotivated, but it was jarring. It was unattractive and complicated, which is deep for a character on this show—particularly one who is basically support for the main cast and who's been the object of affection for so many characters on this show. Erin showed honest concern for not letting Pete see that dark side of her, to turn him away. The writers didn't do more with it, unfortunately. Though it was hard for her to achieve more after that tangle with the box.

The most important storyline of the episode, however, was Jim and Pam's escalation. We've been debating for months how the show has been demonstrating Jam's martial struggles, how you have to take their small communication missteps and grade them on a scale, given that the mere fact that they're not on the exact same page at the exact same line means trouble. And while we've noticed all along how they've found themselves in a rough patch, it wasn't until later in this episode that we really understood how far they've fallen.

Rock bottom for Jim and Pam is having to use other people's words to convey what they mean. They are a couple that is used to exchanging conversations in a look and syncing their movements with each other's needs. Think of the far-away high-five or the sarcastic banter or the very idea of Jim and Pam; to have to resort to a different vocabulary in order say what they mean is a great indicator of how out-of-sync they are. Their subtlety is lost and the certainty of each other's motivations has basically evaporated. But I didn't even put that all together until the final moments of the episode.

It was a little saccharine to insert a scene from the wedding in there, but I'll allow it. Jim bending down to let Pam know that he wants to continue doing this, the desperation in his face when he was leaving the building and when he hugged her goodbye was heartbreaking, and her chasing him down might as well have been her running through the airport in the final act of a romantic comedy. When he hugged her and the scene from the wedding played and she melted back into his arms and they kissed, it was definitely a warm moment. But it wasn't until they spoke and said they loved each other that it all assembled for me, how distant they were, how cold they were, how close to the brink they came.

The only surprising thing was that it came so far from the ending of the series. I expected them to drag it out a little longer, even for Jim and Pam to watch the documentary and realize their love for each other while watching their own history. I'm not upset by the timing. Just surprised.

The Jam story was probably the only bright spot for me in an episode generally devoid of chuckles (outside of Erin losing her shoe in the box). Not a terrible episode, but basic and a little boring. We have three weeks left. Let's make it count.


NOTES

– Did Angela take a pay cut recently and I didn't know about it? She used to live on her own with a number of cats and there were no concerns for her well-being. Now she has to live in a studio apartment and steal toilet paper? I don't understand.

– I feel like it's been a long time since Pete's had more than a single line in an episode. He must be hanging out with the Stan, Phyillis, and Meredith club of background characters.

– CreedWatch: Melon tossing and the ability to turn $2,000 into $800. I'm a little surprised Creed didn't try to cash the check himself, but that might be a Kevin move.

– Kevin, by the way, is officially a kindergartner. He can't fold paper, uses paste, and writes with a novelty-sized pen. They should just put him in a beanie with a propeller and have him spin around in his chair for an entire episode.

– I didn't mention Andy's story because his story was a blight of absurdity in an otherwise heartfelt episode. Unless we were supposed to honestly feel bad for him that he couldn't squirt water in his eye. Darryl saved those scenes for me because I don't have a sympathetic bone in my body that wants anything to do with feeling for Andy. You almost want his acting career to take off so he can disappear again.

What'd you think of "Paper Airplane"?