What is this feeling inside? I think it's warmth that has stirred from my belly and contorted my face. My mouth is in the shape of a smile! Did The Office do this? Did The Office not disappoint me this week?
I think it may have a little something to do with how this episode didn't necessarily feel like its Season 9 brethren. "Stairmageddon" (a title that smacks of the heavy duty construction on the 405 in Los Angeles last summer and fall—#TVWritersProblems, amirite?) had a sharpness to its wit and story that made it stand out against this mostly drab if not awful final season. It's a low bar to hop, but "Stairmageddon" reminded me of a time when The Office cared.
There was a lot of story, with four arcs. Well, three and a half. Much as I enjoyed watching the Senator admit he's gay to the public and the bittersweet pummeling of Angela as he went to extraordinary lengths to present himself honestly, the story itself boiled down to one scene. One during which I had so many confused feelings about Kevin.
I've made it no secret that I think Kevin is a character in decline, one who started off a simple kind of man and has become a five-year-old controlling a lard body. And, certainly, when the press conference started, I thought I was in for another bout of infantile contribution to the group dynamic while watching Angela. "There's Angela. I work with her." So frustrating. But then the secret came out and the celebration began. His gloating and self-congratulation was oddly charming, even in light of his babyish introduction to the conversation. I loved the high five with Oscar and the need to sit down in relief. It pulled Kevin from the brink of puerile insanity. Although when we find out he's actually an adult baby, I won't be surprised.
The review that Nellie read out loud revealed how the show must think of Kevin. It compared him to Falstaff, a Shakespearean character. Granted, about 83 percent of my knowledge of Falstaff as a character comes from Eddie Izzard's routine about how Shaggy and Scooby are the greatest literary characters the world has ever known, so I struggle to weigh in on whether or not Kevin Malone is like the favored cowardly knight lending his population to three of the Bard's plays, but I'm going to say no. He's not. Nice try, The Office. Next you'll try to tell me that Andy is Machiavelli's Prince.
Andy's quest to capitalize on his forthcoming "fame" was at once weird and appropriate. I think it's weird for the show to introduce this story so late in the game (we only have a handful of episodes left in the series), but it's also exactly something that someone so desperate for validation would want to do. Not to mention it opens wide the door to give those nods to the U.K. Office's final Christmas special, something I've talked about in earlier posts. His persistence in the search for an agent and his petulance when Angela and Oscar found "fame" without being song-and-dance people might be the only two things that carried over between Michael Scott and the Nard-Dog without feeling like personality traits from one were jammed into the other for the sake of all these jokes they had left. "I have ten pages of Toby insults. With Michael gone, who's going to use them?"
Now, entertainment-related storylines tend to be times when the show eats itself, the obvious mark of writers who have nothing left to say beyond their skewed views on the industry in which they work. There's a tendency to put these characters who they've imbued with their own intelligence into esoteric situations that are little understood outside of the confines of Los Angeles, and things usually turn out poorly. But, here, it felt okay and I'm not sure if it's because I'm using the "Christmas special ending" as a crutch to rationalize it away or if Andy's struggle to find, land, and get hoodwinked by an agent makes it better. Roseanne Barr (playing Carla Fern) was more subdued than I expected given the press around the episode. She was funny, obviously, but in an episode where we watched Stanley slide down the stairs in an Evel Knievel helmet (or was it Super Dave Osborne?) and witnessed Angela dry-heaving during a press conference, I was looking forward to some sharp, possibly ad-libbed interaction between Carla and Andy. And unfortunate case of hype, I'm afraid.
The constant fountain that is bringing an incapacitated person to a sales call still flows, even this late in the series. What could have been a tired cliche became something much more worthwhile thanks to the process of getting Stanley down the stairs. What won it for me was the conversation Dwight and Clark had while wheeling Stanley to the stairs. "Any big weekend plans?" They could've let the line fall flat but Dwight's reaction made it more natural-feeling, not surrendering to the cheap laugh and letting it dovetail into Dwight's confession that he's never "done this"—pulling a drugged body down the stairs—before. Clark as a character is very good at selling what has become a hyper-quirky office staff by being the better straight man between him and Pete; scenes with him trying to be normal or sarcastic amplify what has generally become complacent weirdness.
The punchline of the arc, a drugged Stanley at the client meeting, was actually the most uninteresting part. It seemed like, with everything else that Clark and Dwight went through to get Stanley to the meeting, him cooing over family photos and tipping over pencil cups was the most obvious joke to be had, if a necessary one to get through. In fact, the coda, where Stanley told Dwight that he'd got Stanley down the stairs, now Dwight would have to get him back up, was the better joke, especially once we got to see that goofy smile on his face as he slid down the doorway, newly tranquilized.
The final storyline was a necessary stake-raising moment for Jim and Pam. The last few episodes have demonstrated that these two are having some pretty devastating problems (relative to them, since they've never had problems), but so far they've been restricted to a fight we never saw, several communication breakdowns, and, on occasion, some of Pam's reservations. Her chat with Brian last week introduced the concept that Jim has "changed" since joining his new company, an accusation with a confirmation we chalked up to Brian trying to break up Jam to create some Bam (or Bram, if you prefer). So the focus on their stalemate was the last necessary step to demonstrate that there may be irreconcilable differences and, while I don't think anyone watching this show thinks JIm and Pam could possibly split up, it'll be interesting to see how they work things out. Both made good points, even if Jim came off more like a jerk. What solution will overcome this hump?
– "Embassy Suites, 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door, mommy and daddy on the floor." Subtle hints that Nellie used to be off-color and kooky but has now dulled to one of the more boring coworkers there. It was somehow disconcerting to hear Pam say, "I wish" to that. It's tough to imagine them in the throes of passion, I suppose. Although I'm sure a legion of fanfic is out there to prove me wrong.
– Clark coming in and saying "My mistake" to Toby's insistence that he leave was another example of Clark adding value to the show, but then there was Toby's "I'm gonna kill him." Readers and commenters, I think this confirms our theory that Toby is definitely, absolutely, the Scranton Strangler. Case closed.
– Bull tranquilizer can't be good for Stanley's heart, right?
– CreedWatch: "Wesley Silver is gay?!" A very low-key presence for Creed lo these past few episodes. He had a rote joke this week, but he was the only one who could say it and have it still make sense. Meredith saying it would have given the connotation that he was a former lover, Phyllis saying it would prompt us wonder whether that's a person we should know, and Oscar needed to have his reaction to the Senator basically breaking up with him. Creed took one for the team.
– The presentation of Jim and Pam's story with Nellie and Toby was a creative way to do the couple's counseling without having to explain why cameras would be allowed in the therapist's office. I haven't seen the next episode or anything in the future where they might have that very scenario, but I feel like the show addressed whatever we'd learn in the therapy session. It described the impasse and provided the history we need to raise the stakes. I'm proud of you, The Office. Well, until you prove me wrong next week.
What'd you think of "Stairmageddon"?