What is it about Jim looking vulnerable and overwhelmed that makes an episode so sweet? I wish I knew. I like Jim and his pranks, the general confidence that feeds his humor, and all the things he does for Pam. But seeing someone get the best of him, make fun of him, knock him down a peg—ah! You can't see me, but I'm doing that thing where you kiss your fingertips and let it float away... you know, like what awful people do when they think they're gourmets of some kind.
I wonder if anyone still does that without being sardonic.
Anyway, despite the fact that "The Target" carried a pretty heavy (and hilarious) story between Angela, Dwight, and Oscar, the only shot in the opening that featured any characters was an old shot of Jim and Pam kissing. So let's start off by talking about them twisting in the wind.
I'm not exactly sure why Jim is worried about Stanley and Phyllis. Stanley has proven time and again that he can be made to do anything when plied with food (the man lives for Pretzel Day, remember?) and Phyllis has never been anything but a pushover. So how does Jim not see that he just has to spend a little to get them on his side?
The set-up was weak, but the payoff was strong. Similar to how I think a New Girl episode without Drunk Nick is a waste of our time, the addition of alcohol to Stanley and Phyllis made those characters a lot more interesting. The difference, of course, is that Nick on New Girl hasn't been mostly in the background this season and contributes to the show on a regular basis. I just really like Drunk Nick.
Stanley and Phyllis working together is a tandem you don't think about often since they've been overshadowed by the rest of the sales staff for, at the very least, several weeks: Jim and Pam have been the center of the universe for eight years, Dwight is a close second to Team Halpert for storylines, and Nellie has drawn a lot of focus this season in an effort to severely normalize her, leaving very little room for Stanley and Phyllis. Even Meredith has been getting more lines lately than these two. So seeing them not only overwhelm Jim but to do it with the coworker/friend chemistry you'd hope they'd have is wonderful. Also: the giant wine bottle. Get you some, Phyllis.
Overwhelming Jim is the most common way to demonstrate his vulnerability since it's the antithesis of his otherwise smooth nature, which is manufactured by affability and confidence, even if we don't generally think of him as a "smooth" character. We see him as down-to-earth, our proxy, which positions him to judge the others (since we, as an audience, laugh at these jokers, too). As few times as we see Jim fall flat, Pam falls even more infrequently as she's often one of the folks making sure Jim is where he needs to be.
Pointing out that Pam doesn't have a customer complaint was a great complement to her perfectionist artist block. Of everything in her arc, her attempt to be a failure is so true to character, and it's just nice to see her have a storyline of her own. Even though Jim and Pam share a common thread of winning after seemingly facing disaster, Pam's story is squarely centered on her and completely outside of her husband and, a rare combination we haven't seen since... since...
Somehow, the climax of the Oscar and Angela arc didn't step on Jim and Pam's fractured moments. The comedy overall was sharp throughout the entire episode, but it felt particularly good here, with Dwight vacillating between helping Angela and stopping a dude in child molester glasses from knee-capping his coworker, and Angela exhibiting the subtle violence that is her way. Oscar also did great during his breaking point after wrestling the lead pipe away. My only complaint is, why did the show have to introduce Trevor? Why couldn't it have been Mose?
For a story with a vaudevillian receipt gag and a dude carrying a pipe in a sandwich, this plot line also exhibited a lot of emotion and dealt with a relatively touchy subject without falling into being preachy. I'm not sure I can recall a show dealing with this kind of issue at all, let alone with this amount of grace. Talking about a closeted gay man who falls in love with someone who isn't the woman to whom he's married seems like it could lay the ground with hyperbolically dramatic mines and sounds more like it hails from Grey's Anatomy than The Office. It was handled well here. Angela Kinsey did a nice job of selling the spectrum of emotions that would come with finding out your husband, to use Dwight's words, is gaying a solid friend of yours.
"The Target" was an episode all about failure and feeling like the target of some vengeful enterprise. Whether it was Jim being taken advantage of by Stanley and Phyllis or Pam being sidelined by a fear of not being perfect or Angela being crushed by a marriage in shambles, each of them was picked back up again. Or at least Jim and Pam were. Angela, well, she had that awesome tag with Dwight at the end. That was amazing.
A sharp episode, completely absent of Schizophrenic Andy. Funny how that works out, huh?
– Over the course of two episodes, the writers have really turned around how much Jim's new company needs him. I got the impression last week that his partners were ready to continue without him and that Jim would have to scrape and scratch to get back into their good graces. This week, the other members of the company turned out to be a bunch of yokels who named their venture "Athlead." How could they ever trust any of their decisions without a Jim smirk test?
– "Make it go wider. Up." The house of comment cards. A funny bit of business and yet another hint that Erin and Pete like each other. The pride everyone feels in accidentally (or intentionally) ticking off their clients is funny—and, weirdly—a bit of cynical work culture that hasn't been explored very much in eight years of this show. Pete flexed some of his leadership and affability muscle when he made Kevin feel better about knocking over the tower. It was like watching a guy comfort a child who's fallen down or lost a game by turning on that irresistible paternal charm. Get it? Because Kevin is an effing child now?
– Also, in case you didn't get that Erin thinks about Pete like that, we got to see it twice. The only way The Office could've drawn more comparisons between Erin/Pete and Pam/Jim were if the tower had actually been part of an Office Olympics.
– Dwight was great this episode. Not cartoony, not plain. The series of shots where he put the clues together that Oscar was the target, the mediator of arguments, the naked person in the paper supply fridge (what is that place that Angela and Dwight used to make such sweet, sweet love in?) was great. He also had that awesome line about how Angela broke her wedding vows first by sleeping with him. Way to give us a talking point, pal.
– Pam's snap is perfectly suited to her. It's bland enough to not suggest a raunchy side and ancient enough to demonstrate how out-of-touch she is with cool ways to insult people. Perfect.
– CreedWatch: Two lines this week! When Pete announced that the comment cards contained a whole lotta Creed: "Let's see what I did." And when Pam made the prank call: "Remember: You're a scumbag, so you think scummy thoughts. Like this." I love that man. I've been told he was also in Liz & Dick. Which is unfortunate. Because now I want to watch it. As a prequel to The Office.
– Funny as Creed was, the episode's end tag might've been my favorite in a long time. Why was Toby the go-to for that information? It doesn't matter. "When gay men have sex, how do they know whose penis will open up to accept the other person's penis?" If the term for two intertwined penises wasn't Red Vining before, it is now.