Contrary to popular opinion (my own, derived from a polling sample of me), this is in fact not one of my favorite episodes of the season. Something about it just doesn't flow quite right, plot-wise, pace-wise, or character-wise. It does, however, contain one of my favorite scenes. Watch for it!
Also one of my favorite cold opens, because of the simple, beautiful genius that is Steve Carell. Any cold that opens with Michael being smuggled into a straitjacket by Dwight is like a precious gift to Michael-lovers all over the world (and Canada). Ditto Dwight tugging on the strap at Michael's crotch to confirm its tightness. And then reaching for the chains.
Michael tells the camera, "A lot of people think that magic camp is just for kids. And that's why so many other people in my class were kids. Self-fulfilling prophecy. It's um, really for anybody with a dream and a belief in magic and a little extra time after school."
Cut to the reception area, where Michael rises from behind Pam's desk muttering "Magic" over and over to himself in hushed, magical tones. He is padlocked in chains, and has tucked what is obviously a key into his left cheek. "And now," he announces, "Michael the Magic will attempt to escape from extreme bondage." What we've all been waiting for! Only not in this context. Everyone gathers to watch him fail. Jim asks if it's true he doesn't want any help, even if he begs or cries or something. Of course he doesn't want help, Jim! There's no way this can fail.
And so Michael counts down and begins to jump around and tug at the chains, and in the process spits out the key. It falls just behind him, where Jim "the evil eagle eye" Halpert spies it right away. And steps on it. Michael pauses to glance at the floor around him, growing increasingly wide-eyed. Failed already! He then proceeds to thrash about and growl like a madman, all while trying to maintain his cool. In voiceover we hear, "I cannot tell you how I plan to escape. Other than by using magic. That is the magician's code." Finally he shuts himself in his office, pulling the blinds closed with his feet. The camera peers through the window, and we see him lying on the floor groaning. The pit sweat that has soaked through the straitjacket further illustrates the depths of his agony.
His talking head, while still wrapped in chains: "Separately, on an unrelated note, if you happen to find a small— brass key..." And it's right there in that pause, the little swallow he takes between "small" and "brass," and his smile of desperation and utter confusion at the end, that hits it all home. God, I still love him so much.
Michael exits his office, wearing his coat and trailed by Dwight, and says, "Ready? Come on, guys. Early worm gets the worm." Which is kind of cute, actually, because I doubt worms are ever early. They're really slow movers. Jim, being Jim, asks "Another worm, like, are they friends?" and Dwight, being Dwight, supplies the proper cliché. Michael asks Pam to give him a breath check and Pam, being Pam, refuses. Glad we could all be here today! Dwight is up for the challenge: "Good, not great," he replies earnestly when Michael breathes down his nose.
Michael's talking head: "'Michael, you go to parties all the time, why is tonight so special?' Well, tonight is so special because my boss's boss's boss, the CFO—not his initials, common mistake—is having a little shindig for all the managers in the company. And Jan and I are going as a couple. For the first time. So it's kind of our coming out party, really. And that is why tonight is so special." Yay! I see meltdowns ahead, and hopefully somebody gets drunk. He's just so excited and proud of himself, in his sexy maroon shirt and matching psychedelic tie, how can he not have a horrible time?
Back to the office, where he's bothering Jim about carpooling, using "I Spy" to try to lure Jim into his car. Jim demurs; he and Karen will go on their own, thanks.
Jim's talking head: "Why don't I wanna go? Didn't expect to need a reason, so let me think here. Um. I don't know any of these people. It's an obligation. I don't like talking paper in my free time, or in my work time. And"¦did I use the word pointless?"
My talking head: "Jesus Christ, Jim, you wet fucking noodle, start liking something."
In the harsh late afternoon sunlight that is the East Coast by way of Southern California, Michael and Dwight make their way presumably northward. Dwight thanks Michael for inviting him along to the party, which makes Michael wonder why—and perhaps whether—he actually did invite Dwight along to the party. But the ring of his own cellphone interrupts his brain: it's Jan! Ambivalent girlfriend extraordinaire. He answers using the specific brand of babytalk no woman—and certainly no woman like Jan—ever wants to hear: "Heh-whoa you!" And immediately follows that up with "Hey, Buttercup!" Apparently Jan is a whole other person in his head.
Jan ignores all this, though, which is probably how she's survived this long. She says they should blow off this party, and then—after instructing him to take her off speakerphone—suggests they go to a motel instead and "just, like, rip into each other like we did on that black sand beach in Jamaica." Oh my God, it's like she's on drugs and the drugs are Michael Scott. And of course Michael has failed to deactivate the speakerphone, so now Jan is sort of panting into the phone in front of Dwight and the cameras and God and everybody.
Michael reminds her that this party is a big step for them, which is both adorable and sad, because now we know all Jan wants is sex. And that they're both in two completely different relationships. And she can tell they're still on speakerphone, with the cameras, so she does a speedy back flip into boss mode and hangs up. One meltdown commencing!
Back in the office, Pam is inviting Roy to Poor Richard's for happy hour with the rest of the gang. Roy doesn't like drinking with dorks, though, so he tells her his brother "just unloaded the jet skis and kinda took a bath, so... we're gonna go get hammered." Oh, Roy, you super-evolved alpha male specimen! Pam reminds him they're going to a bar, which is a place where people can get hammered, and says he has to do boyfriend stuff if he wants to be her boyfriend. And Roy obviously likes sex, too, because he and his dimples say okay.
On to Pam's talking head, which sums up her character arc so far this season and offers but a tiny glimpse of what's still to come: "I have decided that I'm going to be more honest. I'm gonna start telling people what I want. Directly. So, look out world, cause old Pammy is getting what she wants. And don't call me Pammy." Awesome! I've never heard anyone call her Pammy, though.
Meanwhile, Michael and Dwight have arrived at the lovely suburban home of David Wallace, CFO of faux-hipster spectacles (in White Plains, New York, which we last visited in "Branch Closing"). As they head up the sidewalk, Dwight notes that Michael is dressed exactly like the servants, who are hauling things into the house. Michael pauses for a moment to consider the potential impact of this blunder, then orders Dwight to switch shirts with him behind the catering van. Which results in its very own special blend of bad goodness:
Back in Scranton, everyone's arriving at Poor Richard's Pub, where Pam mentions within earshot of Toby that a duck she sees in the claw machine is cute. And so Toby's mission in life is now to claw his way into Pam's heart with the help of a stuffed animal. I don't know; Toby's so pathetic sometimes I want to slap him, too.
In suburbia, Michael and Dwight are greeted at the front door by Mrs. David Wallace, who is dressed in a robe and towel-wrapped head, sans makeup. Michael explains to the camera that "Actually, it's polite to arrive early. And smart. Only really good friends show up early. Ergo de facto: go to a party early, become a really good friend." Only one of the countless reasons why the man has no friends.
Michael hands Mrs. David Wallace a Tupperware container of potato salad. She places it on an ornate silver serving tray which sits on a table laden with ornate silver serving dishes. He tells her to leave the cover on until the other guests arrive: it's been sitting in his car all day, baking in the warm sun. Blech. Cancel all future mayonnaise-based salads for me.
At Poor Richard's, things are starting out slowly because nobody's drunk yet. So Pam asks Kevin if he and Stacy have set a date. He says yes, but when prodded by Kelly, admits that "It's complicated. I would appreciate some space on this." Which means Kevin's getting married around the same time I become a fan of small children and buy a rodent. Enter Roy and his lunkhead brother Kenny, who pass Toby at the prize machine. Roy tries to pretend he wants to be there by graciously offering to buy everybody a round. I give him props for being that kind of guy, at least.
Return to the other cocktail party, where events are in full swing, and where Dwight, standing at the buffet table, informs an innocent stranger that the line on the top of the shrimp she's about to eat is actually feces. Officially nobody is hungry anymore.
Michael is out in the driveway with Jan, who is searching for something in the trunk of her car ("Did you bring dip?" he asks). No: what's she's brought is legal proof that their relationship exists: "I need you to sign these, Michael. It's a waiver of some of your rights. You should read it carefully. It releases the company in the event that our relationship, in your opinion or in reality, interferes with work. You get a copy, I get a copy, and a third copy goes to HR." Rather than being insulted, Michael is thrilled: here, on paper, is evidence that she loves him. Bring on the pre-nups, ladies! He'll hand over anything.
Of course this is not at all where Jan meant for this to go, but it leads to her best-ever talking head: "I am taking a calculated risk. What's the upside? I overcome my nausea, fall deeply in love, babies, normalcy, no more self loathing. Downside? I, uh, date Michael Scott publicly and collapse in on myself like a dying star." She's smoking and looks as though she's making a conscious effort not to vomit.
Back at her car, Michael is signing the papers with all the glee his thirteen-year-old tween girl spirit can muster, complete with a heart over the "i" in his name. Which leads to Jan's second-best-ever talking head: "Why is this so hard? That's what she said. Oh my God. What am I saying?" Oh, sweetie, if you don't know, how could we?
"I love this woman!" Michael screams to all of White Plains as they head towards the house.
Cocktails. Dwight is now offending Dan Gore from Buffalo, whom we remember from "Valentine's Day" last year, by asking if he watches Battlestar Galactica. Dan says no, and Dwight hits him with, "No? Then you are an idiot." And I pretty much agree.
Michael and Jan are talking to David and Mrs. David Wallace (whose real name is Rachel) in the foyer. Michael tells her she cleans up good, while everyone does their best to not hear him. Until Jan makes the mistake of reintroducing Michael to David Wallace, who makes the mistake of asking Michael how he is. Prompting Michael to answer, "Jan and I are lovers. It feels so good to finally say that out loud." I think the fact that Jan doesn't drop dead here or punch him in the face really speaks to the fortitude of her inner character, and also the depth of her crazy. She asks David if she could speak to him privately, and I'm only sorry we aren't privy to that particular conversation, because can you imagine this woman admitting to her boss's boss that she's having sex with this man?
At Poor Richard's, Toby is still losing at the prize machine while Pam orders a couple beers at the bar. As she starts for the table, she says "Oh" to herself and turns back to tell the bartender one of the beers was supposed to be light. He apologizes and she smiles into the camera. One small step for mankind, one large step for our Ms. Beesley.
Cocktails. Michael is standing with Jan, Jim, Karen, and Buffalo Dan, who asks him if the merger went smoothly. Michael says "like butter" and mentions that Karen was one of the transfers. Karen admits she's the only one left: "Everyone else was either fired or quit. And there is one in Anger Management." Michael misinterprets this as some sort of testament to his managerial prowess, then grabs Jan's hand and—dear God—tries to kiss her just as they're joined by David Wallace and Rachel. Jan brushes him off and orders another martini. Oh, honey, it's way too late for alcohol to help.
As Karen compliments Rachel on her house, Dwight steps in to inquire about the square footage. He and Michael bicker for a moment about the appropriateness of this question, and then Dwight goes off on a bizarre house-inspecting tangent that I truly do not care enough to write about.
Ditto the prank Karen plays on Jim, about having slept with every other guy in the room (save Michael and Dwight, one has to assume). I love the actors, and the characters separately, but I just don't buy or care about them as a couple at all. Their storyline turned into a season-long distraction that led us nowhere but back to Pam, and left John Krasinski with very little to do but be kind of an ass.
On to a private cocktail session in David Wallace's well-appointed study, where he is serving twenty-year-old single malt scotch (a gift from Lee Iacocca) to a small group that includes Michael and Jan. Michael accepts a glass and raises it in a toast "to Mr. Iacocca and his failed experiment, the DeLorean." He then takes a huge sip and launches into a wild coughing fit. Jan asks—earnestly, if reluctantly—if he's okay, and he asks David Wallace for some ice. And also "How "˜bout some Splenda?" Dear Michael Scott, you will forever hold the key to my heart. Even if you can't unlock it.
At Poor Richard's, everybody is sitting around a table playing "Up Jenkins." Which was somehow funnier when I thought it was called "Up Chickens," but never mind. Kevin leads Ryan down all the wrong paths in search of losing, while Roy correctly guesses Pam. When she congratulates him on winning, he says he can read her like a book. And then tells her she can't keep anything from him. Nice move, Roy. Just what a girl who's in love with somebody else likes to hear from the guy she's wasting time with.
Cut to Creed at the bar, greeting a large group of underage drinkers who know him by name. He tells the camera, "I run a small fake ID company from my car with a laminating machine I swiped from the sheriff's station." You just have to love the singular Creedness of everything the man does.
Fast-forwarding: Dwight inspecting wall studs, guest room, smoke detector.
Fast-forwarding: Karen making Jim jealous by telling lies.
Cocktails! Michael is standing in front of an enormous fireplace with Jan and David Wallace. He's smelling a candle. To say that Jan looks uncomfortable would be to underestimate her current state of discomfort by like ninety billion percent, especially when Michael asks David Wallace if he and the missus would like to join them down at Sandals, Jamaica, next Christmas. "It's an awesome place," he says. "You would not believe how low this girl can limbo."
Jan has finally had enough. She grabs Michael by the wrist and drags him through the room behind her, stopping in the foyer, where she pushes him up against the wall. When he asks what's wrong, she stammers for a moment and then presses herself against him. And kisses him. "What are you doing?" he asks, and he starts to laugh. "Don't you know what I'm doing?" she asks, and she kisses him again, and even though Michael says yes, it's evident that he does not. Nor do I. And from the unbelievable awkwardness of this kiss, it's also apparent that their love is kind of painful. Which makes me sad for them both. But she pulls him into the bathroom anyway, even after he says "I thought this is where you liked your privacy."
And let's see: we open on a scene I think no one could have predicted we would ever witness, which is Jan begging Michael to fuck her in the bathroom. I'm sorry, is that too crude? Let's call it "making love," then, for all the delicate flowers out there like Michael, who refuses. Because he loves her. Got that? He is refusing to have hot, illicit sex in the bathroom of his CFO's house because all he wants for his special night is to be able to show off his smart, sexy girlfriend—whom he truly loves—in front of people whose respect he desperately wants. So he tells her she's acting inappropriate, which guarantees he won't get laid, maybe ever. "Oh, I'm acting inappropriate?" she asks, baffled. She tells him to forget it and exits stage left. Stormily. This is not a woman who's accustomed to being rejected, and especially by someone like Michael Scott, and I will ask you to kindly remind yourselves of this fact as we continue through the season. Because this moment, my friends, is critical to understanding what lies ahead.
Back at Poor Richard's, Pam is drinking alone at a table when Toby meanders up to present her with the stuffed duck that represents all his hopes and dreams, and that probably cost him over fifty dollars to procure. She asks where he's been all night, because she was looking forward to hanging out with him, then tells him he should give the duck to his daughter. And we all watch as Toby goes down on a one-two sucker punch to the gut from the nicest girl in America.
Fast-forwarding: Dwight pissing off a kid.
Fast-forwarding: Karen flirting with Buffalo Dan while Jim watches from afar. Also, Jim being propositioned to a game of "hoops" by David Wallace. And Karen admitting to Jim that she's only been fooling the whole night about sleeping with all the men of Dunder-Mifflin. Insanity everywhere!
Cocktails. Jan approaches Karen just as Jim walks away, and when Karen says "Hey Jan," she answers "Not too good," then turns and glances across the room at Michael, who waves sadly. Wow: worst run-on sentence ever! And you're welcome.
Rachel, who's standing near Michael, asks another guest if he's had a chance to try Michael's homemade potato salad. Obviously not, because the man is still standing. (You're welcome again.) Cue Michael's talking head: "Rachel thinks that I brought homemade potato salad and I just picked it up at the supermarket. It's funny. I wish I could make potato salad that good. It's just potatoes and mayonnaise." Pause. His face falls. "There's something wrong with Jan." He looks like he's going to cry. I ask you, how many times can one sad little man have his heart broken in the course of one short season?
Outside, David Wallace is questioning Jim about Michael and Jan's relationship. Which makes him kind of a gossipy perv, doesn't it? Albeit one with an in-ground pool. Also another set-up for the season finale (oops! spoiler alert).
Fast-forwarding: Dwight on the roof of David Wallace's house, wrestling with the chimney.
Back to Poor Richard's. Pam and Roy are sitting at the bar, and while we already sense that this is all futile, they do not. Christ, they're slow learners. Pam tells him she wants them to make it as a couple, and he just could not agree more. And then she makes a surprising rookie mistake by telling him there can't be any secrets between them, and then admitting she kissed Jim on casino night. Only Roy doesn't take this as the great and beautiful gift of honesty she believes she's giving. In fact, he takes it badly, and freaks out, and starts yelling, and then yells louder when she tells him not to yell. Luckily she's smart enough to take off when he starts throwing beer glasses at the wall, but not before telling him this is over. "You're right! This is so over!" he rejoins smartly. Kenny the lunkhead appears from nowhere, like a superhero, and smashes a chair against the bar as Roy continues to melt down.
** FAVORITE SCENE ALERT! **
What we (me) have been waiting for: Michael is driving Jan home, for reasons that are not explained, since she arrived in her own car. Whatever. The silence? Palpable. She stares straight ahead with a steely gaze, and he tries to break the tension by joking. "Our first fight!" She's not amused. "If this is about what happened in the bathroom, there was no place to cuddle..." he says, to which she can only reply, "I feel sick." Oh, Jan, just accept it: this thing has already gone way further than you expected or wanted it to, and you are now officially in love with a moron. I can't think of many worse things, but I'm sure there are some.
Michael: "You didn't have any of the potato salad did you?"
Jan: "No, we were good when we were just running around, you know, in secret. It was wrong, and it was exciting. Maybe it was a mistake to take it public."
Michael: "Well, if that's the way you feel, my lady, then you have hurt me greatly."
Jan: "Please don't cry."
Michael: "I'm not going to cry. I feel like it but I am not going to. Why don't you just take your stupid love contract and tear it up into a million pieces."
Jan: "It was never a love contract, Michael, and besides, I've already given a copy to David, and it would be just as embarrassing to get it back from him as it was handing it to him in the first place."
And this is the point when their evenings finally intersect, and their relationships, when Michael, being Michael, gives her his heart like it's nothing out of the ordinary: "I want the house, Jan. I want the picket fence. I want the ketchup fights, and the tickling, and the giggling." And now he is going to cry.
She realizes she's hurt him, and regrets it. Her face softens. "I didn't mean it, okay?" she says, and we can hear in her voice that something has already collapsed. It's the first time she honestly sounds like something other than his boss, or a sexed-up fruitcake. "I was—"
"Whatever," he pouts.
"I was tired. I'm tired. And I didn't eat enough. And"¦and that's all. That was it."
"That's all, you didn't mean it?" Still pouting.
Again she assures him she didn't mean it. And he believes her, and you believe her, and even get the feeling she believes herself, at least for the moment, and is terrified. Especially when Michael says, "I love you, Jan," and reaches out a hand to touch her. "Okay," she says.
There's a pause and then, because we need to cut the sweet with the sour, Dwight pops his head up from the back seat. "Don't break up, you guys," he says soberly. "You're great together." Only they're not, and they both know it, and look miserable.
Seriously, none of this is going to end well for anybody. And it makes me so happy!
Poor Richard's. Roy is crouching in the parking lot when Kenny walks out of the bar. Roy asks if they're going to call the cops, but Kenny says he paid them off with the jet ski money. And we end with a cliffhanger worthy of John Wayne and/or Gary Cooper:
Roy: "I'm gonna kill Jim Halpert."
Woo hoo! Cage match.