The Office: Grief Counseling

Teaser.

Michael is stacking boxes of paper behind Stanley's desk. I guess he's covering shifts in the warehouse now? Or is this simply an elaborate random setup for some Michael-sized shenanigans? So hard to tell! "Hey Ryan," he says. "Can I get you a pencil from the warehouse?" Ryan shoots him down. He probably uses the Pilot V-Ball Extra Fine (black), which is my choice, too. Really, it licks the paper like nothing else I've found. But Michael persists, and finally Ryan realizes it's an elaborate random setup for shenanigans. He knows better than to fight it, which proves he's learned something since he took over Jim's desk. Sure, he says. Maybe he's actually trying to be Jim, only it's not working, because he can't hide the cute snarky smirk that's always shining through on his pretty boy face. From anybody but Michael, that is. Michael absolutely buys it and launches into his shtick, which consists of descending a flight of imaginary stairs behind the boxes he's been stacking. I don't believe I need to tell you that Dwight's uproarious laughter and hearty applause far outweigh the wit of what is at best a half-hearted one-guffaw joke. Kevin and Meredith, on the other hand, register the appropriate degree of mild amusement.

After a moment, Michael climbs the nonexistent stairs to hand Ryan a pencil. Again Dwight feels the need to applaud, then asks Michael for a pen from the warehouse. "Don't mind if I do!" replies Michael. "See you in a minute." Yeah, this is the kind of thing I see him practicing at home, too. He goes down the fake stairs again, and this time the camera follows him around Stanley's desk and catches him on his hands and knees, snatching a pen from Stanley's pencil cup. It's not nearly as clever a trick from Stanley's perspective, that's for sure. And it's starting to wear Michael out; he's breathing kind of heavy when he ascends to hand Dwight his pen. This is fun only as long as it doesn't feel like work.

The problem now is that Pam wants some coffee from the warehouse. Good for you, Pam—keep Jim alive in your heart! "There's coffee in the kitchen, Pam," Michael tells her. She says the warehouse coffee is better, though, and he throws up in his hands in mock-surrender: his audience is literally begging for more! This never happens. He descends once more and crawls on his stomach to the kitchen, where he pries the door open with his fingernails. Phyllis peeks around Stanley; she seems to be the only one still paying attention. Michael's talking head: "I am like Bette Midler in For the Boys. Gotta keep the troops entertained." For the Boys? Yech. But topical. When he reappears with Pam's coffee, he's out of breath and sweating. This is way harder than working with real stairs! "With cream and sugar?" she asks sweetly. He sighs, wipes his forehead. "All right," he says. He accepts that his fate is both to entertain and serve.

Act I.

Michael is at his desk, speakerphoning with Jan. Jan! She's called to tell him they've lost Ed Truck. You mean the freakin' White Shadow? Naturally Michael misinterprets this fairly straightforward fact: "Okay. Let me see if I have his cell. Is this the only reason you are calling, Jan? Or does somebody miss me?" He's so smooth. A man with a girlfriend who never fails to make an ill-timed, generally unwelcome sexual overture to his direct superior. Consistency is his key, and his hobgoblin.

Jan clarifies: Ed Truck died over the weekend. Michael is surprised by this news ("Oh, wow!"), but hardly saddened. Mostly he's glad for the opportunity to spotlight his position on the Dunder-Mifflin phone tree for the rest of the office: "Attention, everybody," he announces. "I just received a call from corporate with some news that they felt that I should know first. My old boss Ed Truck has died."

Kelly, who's standing at Ryan's desk, is immediately concerned. "Oh Michael, that's such terrible news, you must feel so sad," she says, and she follows this with a consoling arm pat. Which is Michael's first clue that maybe he can win some bonus sympathy points over something he doesn't actually have to be sad about. "It's very sad," he says, improvising sadness, and it's sad mostly because Ed was his boss. Not because the man is now dead. Phyllis says Ed was a good guy, and Michael reminds us all that both Phyllis and Creed worked for him, too. Creed looks like he's not so sure, but then I doubt Creed knows who he works for now. Michael wraps it up by telling them he'll be in his office, in case anyone wants to stop by and cheer him up. Nobody does. They all return to their business, which leaves him a little dumbfounded. Did he not just mention he was sad? More sympathy, please!

And of course he's not above whoring himself out to get it. He approaches the reception desk and asks Pam if she's heard the news. I think Steve Carell is channeling some vintage Ted Baxter here; even his stiff-legged walk and the way he tucks his hands in his pockets and ducks his head is the same. "The news that you just announced? That Ed died?" says Pam. He feigns a brave acceptance of the harsh realities encompassing the "circle of life," which is his way of saying the person who's suffered the most here is himself. And what he'd like as compensation is a hug. Which he will force, if necessary: he invades her personal space and motions for her to stand. She hesitates briefly, then steps into his arms. Of course Michael holds on way past the point of comfort, and finally she says "Okay" and pulls away. Nobody suffers more than Pam.

Dateline: Stamford! Where Josh is leading a meeting with Jim, Karen, Andy, and a bunch of people we don't know. Spending time in Stamford just makes me feel lost and disoriented. This is what it's really like to start a new job in a faraway place, only I don't need to feel that way when all I want to do is sit on the sofa and watch TV. Anyway, we're on the cusp of what might be my least favorite B plot ever: the quest for Karen's potato chips. Which starts with Josh asking Jim to make sure she's following up on an account—essentially telling him to babysit Karen—and segues into Jim helping her track down a bag of Herr's potato chips. Which he volunteers to do because he knows she doesn't want (or need) a chaperone, and because he can't be the bad guy in any situation. Plus he knows all it takes to melt a girl's heart is salty, fatty snack foods (totally true, by the way). Get a better storyline, Jim! And then go home, so the rest of us can sleep at night.

Back to Scranton, and another Creed blue ribbon winner: Creed really blossomed this year, I think, with all his tiny, finely tuned bits of crazy. He's exactly the kind of character who leaves you wanting more, which is good, because any more would be way too much. Right now he's talking to Michael in his office while Dwight rifles through Michael's file cabinet.

Creed: "Real shame about Ed, huh?"
Michael: "Yeah. Must really have you thinkin'."
Creed: "About what?"
Michael: "The older you get, the bigger the chance is you're gonna die. You knew that."
Creed: "Ed was decapitated."
Michael: "What?"
Dwight: "Really?"
Creed: "He was drunk as a skunk, he was flying down Route 6. He slides under an 18 wheeler. Pop. It snaps right off."
Michael: "Oh my God."
Dwight: "That is the way to go. Instant death. Very smart."
Creed: "You know a human can go on living for several hours after being decapitated."
Dwight: "You're thinking of a chicken."
Creed: "What did I say?"

God that's so fucking awesome. All we need to perfect the moment is a quick clip of G.O.B. doing his chicken dance and my life would be complete.

Anyway. Dwight is strangely impressed by this whole turn of events, while Michael's brain follows a darker yellow brick road, one that leads him to genuine fear and real self-pity. In his mind, Ed's death had nothing to do with his age, or being drunk, or driving badly, and everything to do with being alone. Although at no point has anyone stated that Ed actually died alone, or that Creed might be telling anything like the truth. Michael only needs to think it to believe it, and thus to place himself at the center of the story. Where he will play both protagonist and designated victim. To the camera: "That is just not the way a Dunder Mifflin manager should go, I'm sorry. Alone, out of the blue, not even have his own head to comfort him." Says the man who wore a replica of his own head for Halloween last year. Good thing he's got a spare.

It does give him more ammunition for his sympathy drive, though, and he'll milk that cow for everything it's worth. He steps back into the office to provide a follow-up broadcast. "So, I'm not exactly sure how to say this," he says, only he doesn't have to say it at all, because Dwight breaks in with "Ed was decapitated." Michael is not pleased: Dwight should know he likes overcoming his own self-imposed obstacles in public, and making all the announcements. He brushes Dwight off and says, "He was driving on the road and he went under a truck. And that's when his"¦head was separated from the rest of him." That's all for now, but he'll keep them updated as events transpire. This time everyone is more appropriately barfed out: decapitation is the worst!

Cut to Dwight and Angela in the break room. She's buying herself a soda when he approaches, and for once he's actually looking at her when he speaks. "If my head ever comes off, I would like you to put it on ice," he tells her. Sexy! Seems like the kind of thing she'd normally jump at, but she doesn't want to talk about it. Isn't it just like a woman to go all hot when you want her to be cold.

Dwight's talking head, which is currently still attached to his body: "When I die, I wanna be frozen. And if they have to freeze me in pieces, so be it. I will wake up stronger than ever because I will have used that time to figure out exactly why I died and what moves I could have used to defend myself better now that I know what hold he had me in." Such absolute faith in all that's implausible, unfeasible and scientifically fictional.

Next: Michael's office. Michael is on the speakerphone with Jan again while Dwight stands guard behind him, notepad in hand. Together they launch into a long, free-flowing three-way (!) sort of boomerang that rivals their conversation in "Performance Review" for its batty brilliance. Michael starts by expressing confusion over the fact that "We have a day honoring Martin Luther King, but he didn't even work here." The camera pans down to his desk, where he's staring at an old newsletter article ("Michael Scott achieves top sales honors for Scranton for the Third straight quarter") featuring a full-color photo of him—wearing a short-sleeved Dwight shirt, striped tie, fanny pack, and feathered-ish Billy Ray Cyrus locks—shaking Ed Truck's hand. Slowly, while the camera lingers, he lowers a Dunder-Mifflin envelope to conceal Ed's head. Probably thinks he looks pretty rockin' awesome, while Ed is unfortunately dead.

Jan asks if giving everyone the day off might help. She's being unusually patient today, and understanding, isn't she? Maybe because she secretly loves him? But Michael says the day off is the last thing his people would want. So she tries again: what would he suggest? He pauses for a moment of deep reflection and heart checking. What would Michael Scott want as a tribute to himself? "A statue," he says majestically, as if he's just plucked a diamond from the sky and presented it to her on a small velvet pillow. "Of Ed!!?" she says. Officially out of patience. She laughs and tells him that's not realistic. "Well, I think it would be very realistic, it would look just like him," he tells her.

She tries her damnedest to stop this before he gets going, but he's already gone: "We could have his eyes light up, we could have his arms move..." Cue Dwight, who says, "That is not a statue, that is a robot." Because Dwight would know from robots. He starts sketching. "I think that is a great way to honor Ed," says Michael, meaning himself. And the two of them are off and running, united once more in pursuit of the dumbness.

Dwight: "And how big do you want this robot?"
Michael: "Life-size."
Dwight: "Mm, no. Better make it two-thirds. Easier to stop if it turns on us."
Jan: "What the hell are you two talking about?"
Michael: "Well, we are talking about how to properly honor a man who gave his life as regional manager of this company, Jan."
Jan: "You know what, Michael? I've really tried with you today, and I have to get back to work."
Michael: "Oh do you? You know who wished they could get back to work is Ed Truck."
Jan: "So call me when you feel like having a real conversation."
Michael: "But Ed truck can't because he is—"
Jan: "Goodbye."
Michael: "—dead!"
Dwight: "Look—I gave him a six foot extension cord so he can't chase us."
Michael: "That's perfect."

Oh, I absolutely concur.

Sigh. Dateline: Stamford. Jim and Karen are still searching for chips. If I cared more about this storyline, I could lay it all out for you—calling the West Side Market, is Karen a quitter? hell no! Andy thinks it's a game, did they check the vending machine? no just the copier, and the fax, and not their butts. If you love Jim, just look at his picture for a couple minutes or something and make up your own story.

Back in Scranton, Michael is busy exploring his grief by bothering everybody else. Especially Stanley, who's not the sort of person many people would want to bother. "Ooh," Michael's saying, "can you imagine how much blood there was? If it happened right here, it would reach all the way to reception. Probably get on Pam." EW. Phyllis and Stanley don't want to hear this. Michael says he didn't want to hear about it either, but now he can't stop picturing it. "He leaves work, he's on his way home...wham! His capi- is -detated from his head!" Somehow during this he manages to spit on Stanley's face. Stanley says, "You have just spit on my face." Michael sees this is going nowhere: "Well, you know what? There's something wrong with you. There is something wrong with everybody in here. Because we have lost a member of our family and you don't wanna talk about it, you don't wanna think about it, you just wanna get back to work!"

His talking head, at his desk, where he keeps glancing at his computer screen: "There are five stages to grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And right now, out there, they're all denying the fact that they're sad. And that's hard. And it's making them all angry. And it is my job to try to get them all the way through to acceptance. And if not acceptance, then just depression. If I can get them depressed, then I'll have done my job." I love that what he considers his job is so seldom the job he actually gets paid to do.

Act II.

Conference room, where everyone's circled up: time for depression training! Michael is holding the plastic expandable ball from his desk: depression training with toys! The point of this exercise: he's going to throw the ball to someone who must then talk about someone they loved who died. Ugh; mandatory grieving. He'll go first: "Let me show you how this works. I catch the ball. I lost Ed Truck. And...it feels like somebody took my heart and dropped it into a bucket of boiling tears...and at the same time, somebody else is hitting my soul in the crotch with a frozen sledgehammer...and then a third guy walks in and starts punching me in the grief bone...and I'm crying, and nobody can hear me, because I am terribly, terribly, terribly alone."

Has there ever been a more nonsensical yet concrete"¦what? Parable? Allegory? It needs its own new word. At any rate: I've never, ever loved a fake person this much.

The camera pans to Pam, who looks a little scared. So this is the perfect time for Roy to interrupt. There's something wrong with her car radiator, he says. Michael tells them to hurry back, and she scurries away like there's no tomorrow. On their way out the door, Roy tells her there's nothing wrong with her car; he thought she could use a break from grief counseling. Dammit. Don't make us want you back, Roy! You know we can't love you, even if you are all slim and trim and super foxy this year.

Out in the parking lot, he asks if she likes her new car, and if it has airbags. "I think so," she says. "I don't know. I was mainly focused on the cup holders." Does anything else matter? He tells her he hopes she's not still driving so fast. They go all introspective while they stare at her car, and it's both awkward and comfortable. They know each other too well, is the problem.

Dateline: Stamford. Jim is lying to somebody on the phone. Karen laughs. Still no chips. But here's another pic.

Back in Scranton, Pam is back in the conference room. Everyone else looks bored. "You waited for me?" she says. Hoping this would be over by now. Michael says, "Pam, you're a member of this family, so we will wait for our family members." Which is both unbelievably sweet and unfortunate. It's Phyllis' turn next. He tosses the ball in her direction, but Dwight reaches out and grabs it. This is the kind of game he kills at: "I got it. When my mother was pregnant with me, they did an ultrasound and found she was having twins. When they did another ultrasound a few weeks later, they discovered, that I had resorbed the other fetus. Do I regret this? No. I believe his tissue has made me stronger. I now have the strength of a grown man and a little baby." That explains a lot, actually.

Michael's a little grossed out, too, but he tells Dwight to throw the ball to somebody else. Dwight picks Stanley. Stanley isn't playing; he throws the ball at Michael, putting a hard spin on it. Michael gets that look on his face that he always gets when people don't want to participate, kind of flushed and personally attacked. He passes the ball gently to Pam. Someone he knows he can trust. She thinks for a moment, then tells this story:

"I had an aunt that I was really close to. She was this amazing female boxer. Um, anyway, she was injured in a fight, and she was paralyzed. So, you can imagine how upset I was when I found out that she asked her manager to remove her breathing tube so she could die."

While she speaks, the camera pans first to Michael, who is mesmerized; then Ryan, who's trying not to smile; and finally to Kevin, who looks confused. He's heard this story somewhere before"¦ Michael tells her it's okay if she wants to cry; she doesn't. (There are definite shades of Jim emoting under the jinx rules in "Drug Testing" here. )

Ryan holds out a hand; he'll go next. He proceeds with this: "Um, a few years ago, my family was on a safari in Africa and, um, my cousin, Mufasa, was um, he was trampled to death by a pack of wildebeests and, um, we all...took it really hard. All of us kind of in the audience"¦of what happened." Again Michael is drawn in: "Do you wanna talk about it?" he says softly, and Ryan says, "Oh, it would probably take me like an hour and a half to tell that whole story." Maybe Disney is sponsoring this episode.

Now Kevin is itching to tell his tall tale. "Me me me, me me me," he mumbles. Ryan throws him the ball. Dwight is smiling, or Rainn Wilson is trying not to smile, it's tough to tell which. Same for Jenna Fischer. And of course Kevin is going with something bone-headed: "I was trying to throw this party once. And everyone was over for the weekend. And then my uncle Bernie died, and so me and my best friend, we had to pretend like he was alive, so..."

The camera pans to Ryan, who's shaking his head: the jig is up! Of course Michael recognizes this one. And now he's heartbroken. "Do you think that this is a game?" he asks, his voice going all high and squealy. Phyllis points out that there is a ball. Michael says they're starting over, but Stanley has had enough. He stands to leave, and everyone else follows. Angela tells Michael they have a lot of work to do, and he says, "Yeah. Well, you know what? The guy who had my job has died. And nobody cares! And he sat at my desk." His voice is choked; he's really falling apart now. And we see Pam, who is finally starting to understand how real this is for him.

Then Toby steps up. Kind, gentle, calm, rational Toby. Trying to reason with a child. "Michael, look. I know this is hard for you, but death's just a part of life. I mean, just this morning I saw a little bird fly into the glass doors downstairs and die. And I had to keep going." Michael rubs his eyes: he can't believe it. Dead birds? Not what a child wants to hear! He asks Toby how he knows that bird was dead. "Did you check its breathing? Was its heart beating, Toby? Did you check it? Of course you didn't. You're not a veterinarian!" His voice rises and rises, until finally he screams, "You don't know anything!" and runs out the door. Dwight—the ever-faithful Butch Cassidy—is right on his tail.

Together they race down the stairs to the front of the building, where Michael finds a lifeless bird lying just outside the door. He picks it up. "He's a goner," Dwight says, matter-of-factly. Dwight! A little support, please! Michael holds the bird to his ear—checking for a heartbeat—and Dwight shouts to get it away from his head. "He is covered in germs and bacteria!" Michael's all, don't be crazy, man! "You can't get diseases from a bird!"

Act III.

Open in the kitchen, where Michael is trying to revive a dead bird by pouring water on its beak. Angela objects, as does Kelly when Michael says they don't know if it's dead. Of course it's dead! Dwight asks Michael, "Do you want me to flush him?" Michael looks horrified; he has now worked himself into such a state that he has actually become this bird, which is like some sort of extraspecies form of transference.

Cut to the outer office, where he announces they will all be gathering in the parking lot at 4:00 for a bird funeral. Meredith says she has a lot of work to do. He's sorry to inconvenience her, but "that is what you do when things die. You honor them. Toby killed this bird. And now we are going to honor it." Everything's better when you can blame it on Toby. Angela tries to object again, and Michael flips his lid. "No, no, no! That's enough! You know what? This bird is dead. He died alone. The least you can do is be there for him now." Again we see Pam, at her desk, looking thoughtful and plotting. Michael hands the bird to Dwight and tells him to find a box to bury it in.

Dateline: Stamford. Karen speaks French. Jim's starting to like her. Still no fucking chips. I see they have those super expensive Aeron desk chairs in Stamford, though. No wonder Dunder-Mifflin is in trouble.

Scranton. Michael passes Kelly, who's crying at the copier. He pats her on the shoulder and tells her it's okay. Finally someone who's depressed! And then she speaks: "I mean, how many times do I have to confirm plans with Ryan for him to know that we have a date tonight?" Michael throws up his hands in mental disgust and walks away.

Unfortunately he walks in on Dwight in the kitchen, just as Dwight is trying to stuff the dead bird into an empty soda can. "What are you doing?" he screams. Dwight says the can is about the right size. Michael says it's not, and then he picks up something from the table. "Is that the beak?"

Dwight's talking head: "I'm sorry, I grew up on a farm. We slaughtered a pig whenever we wanted bacon. My grandfather was reburied in an old oil drum. It would have fit if he had given me another minute." The bird, he means. And Michael.

Now Dwight's off to find a box at Pam's desk. But she has already taken over. "I have it covered," she says, and she holds out a blue floral kleenex box, perfectly bird-sized, lined with soft tissue. And for Dwight? An order that sounds like a request: "If you want to do something for the funeral, maybe you could play a song on your recorder." "Excellent," he says. She asks if he has it with him; "Always," he says. All he needs is a direct order, and a way to participate.

Pam's talking head: "Did I wake up this morning thinking I'd be throwing together a bird funeral? You never can tell what your day here is gonna turn into." She looks okay with that, though; sometimes all you need to get through a day is a way to feel useful. I think that's what keeps her going.

Stamford, one more time. Chips found. Jim is a hero. Karen's in love.

Scranton. Everyone huddles in the parking lot. Michael thanks them for coming, and Kelly says he told them they had to. I wonder if Kelly ever hears what she's saying? Michael asks Dwight for the box, and Pam hands him her creation, which is now decorated with thumbtacks, a toothpick cross, and eraser-tipped pencils for handles. See? This show is all about the details.

Michael takes it from her, deeply touched. "You made this?" he asks, and she nods. Finally someone is showing him the respect he believes he deserves.

Ryan's talking head: "When I was five my mom told me that my fish went to the hospital in the toilet. And it never came back so we had a funeral for it. And I remember thinking "˜I'm a little too old for this.' And I was five." That's Ryan's problem: he was never young. Which is maybe why Michael loves him so: because Michael has never grown up.

Back in the parking lot, Pam announces that she'd like to say a few words. Aw, Pam. Her heart is big enough to hold the whole world, I think. And so she reads from a handful of notecards.

Pam: "What do we know about this bird? You might think, not much, it's just a bird. But we do know some things. We know it was a local bird. Maybe it's that same bird that surprised Oscar that one morning with a special present from above."
Kevin: "Oh, I remember that. That was so funny."

Michael takes a moment to smile here, for himself. He's also starting to get a little teary-eyed, for himself.

Pam: "And we know how he died. Flying into the glass doors. But you know what? I don't think he was being stupid. I think he just really, really wanted to come inside our building, to spread his cheer and lift our spirits with a song."
Dwight: "It's not a songbird."
Pam: "An impression, then. Lastly, we can't help but notice that he was by himself when he died. But of course we all know that doesn't mean he was alone. Because I'm sure that there were lots of other birds out there who cared for him very much. He will not be forgotten."

She's looking at Michael now, who's crying, and then Angela barks out, "Amen." Enough of this horseshit! thinks Angela.

Kevin kneels to light the funeral pyre (which is nesting in a Dunder-Mifflin paper box) and Dwight—wearing a suit, tie, and trenchcoat—cues up his lime green recorder, head solemnly bowed. This is a tribute, remember. As he begins to play, Michael wipes away a tear, then clasps hands with Meredith and Phyllis. He can't even believe how great this funeral is. This is just what he imagined for himself: his friends, his family, and music. He won't be forgotten, or stuffed in an empty soda can. As Pam sings, they all begin to sway.

    Just smile for me and let the day begin
    You are the sunshine that lights my heart within
    On the wings of love
    Only the two of us
    Together flying high
    Flying high
    Upon the wings of love

Michael's final thoughts: "Society teaches us that having feelings and crying is bad and wrong. Well, that's baloney, because grief isn't wrong. There is such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown."

Back in the parking lot, the festivities are drawing to a close. They watch silently as the small fire burns, and Kevin begins to applaud. "Let's get back to work," Michael whispers. Acceptance achieved! Heart mended.

Tag.

Mindy Kaling, in a TV Guide interview for "Diwali," said: "The thing about our show is whenever there's like a sweet moment, we have to counter it with a grotesque moment. Otherwise we become the sort of maudlin sitcom that we as writers hate. We don't ever want to be the show with the 'very special moment,' or where two characters understand each other finally. It has to be cut with something that's not right, so we can 'reset the order of the universe.'"

Which is a perfect explanation for this: Dwight, in the parking lot, approaches the still-flaming bird box with a fire extinguisher in hand. He takes aim and blows the thing to pieces, then stomps on the casket to ensure the fire is out. Walking away, he hollers to two warehouse guys, who have been watching the proceedings from the loading dock: "Guys, get a broom! Clean this up! Grab a broom! You heard me. Mush!"