There was something about this episode that made it better, wasn't there? I can't quite put my finger on it but the characters seemed truer, the comedy seemed sharper, and drama seemed better. I'm struggling here. Why was it that this episode seemed to be less stupid and more funny? I—wait a minute, I think I have it.
Schizophrenic Andy wasn't forced to be the anchor.
In fact, we got the Andy who's more like the one we've grown to love (or tolerate) and then he was gone within the first two minutes, leaving the other, more consistently interesting characters to fill the void. But the merciful absence of Andy wasn't the big story of the night.
There are few phrases from the early days of The Office that have remained in my vocabulary (especially since "That's what she said" has been replaced by Archer's "Phrasing!"), but one of them is the calculated risk for which the result might be to "collapse on myself like a dying star." That line was delivered expertly by Melora Hardin as Jan, that sweet, socially-inept, hot mess of an alpha female.
It's been years since she stood by that tree in front of David Wallace's house, debating the pros and cons of dating Michael Scott, and the show did an expert job of hitting all the notes of Jan without leaning too heavily on flashback (and, somehow, doing it all without mentioning or even showing clips with Michael Scott). Just some short scenes to remind of us of how crazy she is, the beginning of her journey to exact revenge upon David Wallace, and the rest was up to us. The candles. The baby near Cece's age. The open blouse to remind us of those... enhancements.
Just as Roy got his own episode to say farewell, Jan got hers, which is precisely what I'd hoped for. I was scared that The Office would end up doing what Seinfeld did during its series finale, pulling all the smaller characters from over the years into a little courthouse and having them drop their individual catch phrases. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But I'm glad to see Jan get more than just a line in a montage of confessionals.
What's been good so far about these episodes featuring former guest stars is that they've also been great "where are they now" stories. Within the span of Roy's episode, we saw how well he's doing, his hopes for the future, and, ostensibly, a Happy Ever After. Jan's, while it didn't exactly meet with Roy's conventional version of happiness, was just as fulfilling, particularly since she (very nearly) fulfilled her sweet "living well" revenge on David Wallace. It's also important to note that two of the people who stopped working at Dunder-Mifflin who've been featured are doing much better now than they ever were at the paper company. Roy has a beautiful bride and runs his own business. Jan is in charge of the White Pages (no small enterprise). Basically, anyone who stays at the Scranton branch is essentially agreeing to punch in every day to a stagnant pit of despair.
But times are a-changin' and some of these characters are starting to loose themselves of the stagnation. The most obvious example of that is Oscar, who finally got caught. And I couldn't be more for it. How many more episodes could we stand with Oscar looking nervous at even the suggestion of innuendo? I was glad to see Angela put the pieces together to get this storyline moving, particularly since it's probably going to account for Oscar's "happily ever after." We have a long way to go, but let's hope the journey is worth it.
The other big set-up for the future was Jim's dangling confusion about whether he can continue to literally phone in his effort for the sports marketing startup. While I can't imagine the series giving Jim and Pam anything less than their freedom from the shackles of their middling jobs, the wrench being thrown here contributes to some intrigue. What can the Halperts do if they have to decide right now whether to stay with the job security in Scranton or move on to the high-risk, high-reward of leaving it behind? The pit of despair and its immediate surroundings obviously conspired to bring Jim down and force his partners' hands. You have to assume, if the offer's on the table, that Jim will at least take the position over his sales job at the paper company. But they planted the tiniest little sapling that Halpert could lose this thing, didn't they?
"The Whale" was a fun episode that felt so much better without Andy Bernard trying to steal the show while armed with whatever personality the writers decided he needed this week. We got a dose of the past with a lot of stories setting the table for more important stories. A better episode. Not perfect. But better.
– The Pete and Erin thing: When will it be okay to pull the trigger on that? It's not ready yet, but they have to find a time when (1) we as an audience will accept Erin jumping from one boy to the other and (2) enough chemistry has been established between Erin and Pete that Erin's jump will seem like the right choice. Those two criteria are far from being met.
– I love Toby and his mustache confidence, especially since, in the world of upper-lip facial hair, I share a lot in common with Clark. Movember would have to be six weeks long before anyone would realize I'd done anything different.
– Erin's different variations for what a mustache looks like (an eyebrow in the middle of your face, with your mouth like an eye socket; cyclops missing an eye), along with telling Stanley to eat it, are two more reasons why Erin is in the running for MVP on this show.
– I felt like the Dwight stuff toed the line between wacky and cartoonish as he struggled to learn how to appear like he's listening. I thought it was funny and I welcome any opportunity for Rainn Wilson to make his genius serial killer face. I just worry.
– Along with Dwight's story came this little string of logical reasoning: Dwight has trouble selling to women, Dwight is the top salesman at the company, so the city that Dwight sells to must be predominantly male. A sad state of affairs for gender equality in Scranton.
– I also really like Dwight and Pam or Dwight and Jim teamed up together, specifically the sweetness in the former and the professional respect in the latter (despite a lot of big talk by Dwight in mixed company). If Dwight lived in a realm of normalcy and convention, the three of them would probably be outside-of-work buddies. Dwight went the path of beet farming and nunchaku instead. But I love how supportive Pam can be for her husband's chief rival. "You got this, Schrute."
– "Where's the Quizno's?" What a beautiful lamb to offer up as a sacrifice, particularly since he's supposed to be Dwight's doppelganger.
– Congratulations, The Office. You've officially made Nellie as bland as Jim and Pam. Now what?
– CreedWatch: "I miss Clinton." So say we all, brother. So say we all.