The Office: Safety Training

Teaser.

Andy's back. Carrying a box loaded with pencils (does he not remember he works in an office, and that supplies are provided?) and a whole bunch of tin foil. Most likely encasing some kind of non-angry poultry lunch; red meat would be too aggressive. Pam greets him by name, only to be corrected (non-angrily): "Drew. I'm Drew now." Yay! Let's all wash away past sins by assigning different names to the better side of our personalities. Mine will be "Julia." 

Pam frowns, Pam-style, and apologizes, Pam-style. He waves it off: "Apology not accepted— (pause)—because it wasn't even necessary in the first place!" He's obviously trying very hard to seem normal, but it's that pause that freaks Pam out. She looks wary: five weeks of intense anger management training have managed to erase (suppress) "the grumpies" while leaving all the crazy intact. Andy also seems physically smaller now, only with bigger, angrier teeth. I can't wait to watch him blow.

We're toeing that line already when Jim welcomes him back.  He's not having any of this "Drew" business, which seems kind of mean since Andy looks so small and eager and sincerely repentant, and yet it's perfectly in line with the new and not really improved Jim we've come to know and not really like in Season 3 (the mop on his head that's acting as a wig is not helping any of this). 

Dwight refuses to acknowledge Andy at all. In a nod to his proud Amish heritage, he informs the camera that he will be shunning Andy Bernard for the next three years (approximately the same amount of time he himself was shunned as a small boy for wasting precious tuna oil), which is like "slapping someone with silence." Which is brilliant. So he lobs verbal shunning instructions at Jim, whom he should certainly know by now is the last person who will ever carry out his explicit orders. 

Dwight: "Jim, could you please inform Andy Bernard that he is being shunned?"
Jim: "Andy, Dwight says welcome back, and he could use a hug."
Dwight:  "Okay, tell him that that's not true."
Jim, in a direct blow to Dwight's soft underbelly: "Dwight says that he actually doesn't know one single fact about bear attacks."
Dwight:  "Okay, no, Jim, tell him bears can climb faster than they can run."
Andy nods and smiles and slinks away. This is probably not going the way he hoped it would. 
Dwight, still desperate to prove his bear attack fact credentials: "Jim! Tell him!"
I love that in the laws of Dwight's universe, the power of his shun is absolute over the power of Andy's hearing. 

Opening credits. What's so great about this theme song is how well it captures the essence of the show: bleak, buoyant, then bleak again. There can be no funny without the sad.

Act I.

It's safety training day in the office. Toby is busy preparing what will undoubtedly be a somber sermon, so Michael leads everyone down to the warehouse first to see how Real Men Do Safety. Which is a little hard to understand, considering how much abuse he suffered at Darryl's hands last week, but he's sure "it gonna be zoppity." He likes getting all that sand kicked up in his face, I guess.

In the warehouse, Darryl (on crutches) introduces them to various dangerous warehouse implements. First the forklift, which we've already seen Michael employ as a weapon of destruction in "Boys and Girls." Again he's drawn to it like a magnet (it's that genetic four-year-old fascination with big bright shiny mechanical objects of death), so Darryl slaps him away with a crutch and a quiz.

Darryl:  "Mike, should you drive the forklift?"
Michael, eager to show he's a Real Man among men, steps right up: "I can and I have."
Darryl and Lonny take a moment to argue the point, vehemently.
Michael: "Guys, I'm not the only one who's driven the forklift." (He points at a Stocky Female Warehouse Worker we've seen before.) "Pudge has driven the forklift."
Pudge:  "Madge."
Michael, genuinely confused: "I thought your name was Pudge." 
(Really? Pudge? I love you, Michael.)
Pudge: "No, it's always been Madge."

Michael shakes his head and rolls his eyes. She'll always be Pudge to him.:  "Oh—kay." 
Eventually Darryl gets Michael to agree that he won't operate any of the dangerous warehouse implements, but they both know this is merely a formality: Michael can't resist a toy! Of course it also turns out he's the reason Darryl is on crutches; he kicked the ladder away while Darryl was reaching for something on a shelf just so he could shout, "Hey Darryl, how's it hangin'?!" Comedy gold! Steve Carell's red, sweaty, gleeful face as he admits this to the camera only reinforces how, in Michael's Itchy & Scratchy world, bodily harm and serious injury are totally worth it as long they're performed in service to the almighty, albeit obvious, joke.

Next up in the warehouse chamber of horrors: the baler! Which intrigues Dwight, as well. He pumps a fist when Darryl tells them it can "cut off your arm and crush your entire body without skipping a beat." Woo hoo! Andy, standing next to Dwight, mimes a cheer: apparently, having failed to win Michael's heart with his suck-up-itude, he's transferring his affections to Dwight. Carefully working his way down the ladder. Dwight's not impressed.

But Darryl is ready with another quiz: "How many people a year get their arms cut off in a baler?"

Kevin, who has a lot of time on his hands since the culmination of March Madness(TM) (seriously, it's trademarked) and can never pass up a good opportunity to lose money, turns to Jim. "Five bucks says it's over fifty." Jim agrees, since he knows Kevin sucks at gambling, and we are all rewarded with instant gratification as Darryl answers his own question: it's ten people. Kevin starts handing over bills but Jim tells him they can go double or nothing on—something to be named later. At Dunder-Mifflin Scranton, the possibilities are infinity times a million billion.

Back to more bickering between Darryl and Lonny and Michael about whether Michael going anywhere near the baler would be the worst thing in the world. To Michael, it's nothing more than a "big red trash compactor," which in and of itself would be enough to scare most people off. Not Dwight, of course, who steps right up and sticks his head inside. But he's probably got one of these on the farm. For hay or whatever. (I may have grown up in Wisconsin, but the only time I've ever set foot on a real farm was in the 11th grade, when Frau Freitag took us on a tour of a dairy farm with a group of German exchange students who didn't get the point, either. Like they don't have cows in Germany?) Anyway, over Darryl's emphatic protests, Michael manages to leave the whole debate kind of open ended. He's a big fan of self-imposed loopholes.

Abrupt cut to the office version of safety training, led by Toby with a mean-spirited introduction by Michael that seems to make even him feel a little guilty, although I can't figure out why. It's like part of him is still flattened by his horrible negotiation day fiasco and he's learned to imagine, just a little, just as much as his wee brain can handle, what it feels like to be Toby; i.e., completely emasculated. That ladies' suit really did a number on him.

But in fact it's all about competition: Michael just wants this to be as cool and scary as Darryl's presentation, which is why he has invited the warehouse guys to listen in on the dangers of carpal tunnel, poor circulation, and eye strain, all of which can be alleviated, says Toby, by stepping away from your computer for ten minutes every hour. Michael verbally miscalculates by adding ten and ten and ten while the warehouse guys grow restless and cagey. You can feel the temperatures rising, along with Michael (displaying uncharacteristic perceptiveness), who tells Toby to skip ahead "to the really dangerous stuff," like computers that explode. Toby shakes his head no, shamefully overlooking the great Sony lithium-ion battery recall of '06. 

Next up on the list of office nightmares: a drafty workspace! Toby mentions they should all keep sweaters or cardigans at their desks, and Ryan chips in with "What about a long-sleeve tee?" followed by "long johns" and "shawl" from the peanut gallery while Michael dies a little in the background. "You know, anything that warms you," Toby clarifies. We see Pudge yawning while she flips through a magazine. (No fooling, though, she should probably pay attention, since this one can be pretty bad and isn't confined strictly to an office space. A cardigan is probably the smartest option regardless of where one works, since it can be donned or discarded at will.)

By now Michael has deduced that his own team is losing, and badly, so he summarily relieves Toby of his duty and takes matters into his own hands before everybody "vomit[s] due to boredom." Frankly I'm surprised he held out this long. He grabs the safety pamphlet from Toby's hands and starts to recite the hazards of "seasonal affective disorder" and a "sedimentary" lifestyle. Toby, reading over his shoulder, corrects him: "Sedentary." Michael shrugs; dude, it's all the same to him. 

Not to Lonny, though. When Michael claims—truthfully for once, although he looks like he's guessing—that more people die every year from heart disease than from balers, Lonny tells him "that's fat butt disease" and accuses Michael of suffering from it. Which for some reason ruffles Kelly's soft, pretty, pale pink feathers (Kelly! of all people, having Michael's back). She cocks some vintage Kelly disbelief and says, "Excuse me, Sea Monster, you weigh like a thousand pounds." Assuming Ryan is going to defend her ass when he's inevitably drawn into the battle, knowing full well Ryan's a huge weenie (and props to BJ Novak for playing up the weenie factor in a script of his own writing).

It doesn't matter; Darryl has had enough. He stands, struggling to his crutches to punctuate his point, and tells Michael that, unlike the office atmosphere, "it's serious down there" in the warehouse. "We do dangerous stuff, man, this is shenanigans. Foolishness. Nerf ball. You lead a sweet, little, Nerfy life. Sittin' on your biscuit, never having to risk it." I don't know; for a super tough guy warehouse boss, Darryl's always quick to flash some rhyme scheme.

Still, gauntlet thrown. And the damage is done; Michael is thoroughly, visibly deflated. "What, so Nerf isn't cool anymore?" he asks the air. Then, to the camera, he boasts that he used to work in a warehouse, too. "Men's Wearhouse. I was a greeter." Isn't that just the saddest thing? God, I love him so much. 

Continuing, because he can't see yet where this is going: "I'd like to see Darryl greet people. Probably make 'em feel like wimps. Not me—I—" And then Steve Carell does one of those priceless, genius takes, where thirteen conflicting emotions (rage, disappointment, disgust, self-loathing, self-pity, etc.) rush across his face simultaneously while he tries in vain to fight them all back. Finally he shakes it off and stares straight into the camera: "Hello. I'm Michael, welcome to Men's Wearhouse. We have a special on khaki pants today." Michael, Michael, Michael: don't you know by now that your defense of yourself is never, ever, ever a good offense?

Act II.

Back to "In Lieu of March Madness(TM)." At reception, Pam is playing Vanna White with her stash of jelly beans while Kevin, Jim, and Oscar look on. "Ten," Kevin says. Jim shakes his head. "Really?" says Oscar. "Ten. That's your guess. You're a professional accountant." Kevin's an accountant? Sometimes you forget they actually have jobs to do here. Jim mentions there are probably at least ten green ones in the container, and Kevin looks instantly regretful: it's tough when every move you make makes you an even bigger loser. Especially when you try so hard and so often. Oscar guesses 42; Jim goes for 50. And then Karen, who's somehow been hiding behind both Pam and Oscar the whole time, says 51. They all stare at her: it's a strategy, she says, and I suppose it is. For cutting everybody else off at the knees. Pam throws her a bone, though: "It's called being smart." Or ruthless; the New Pam must be taking notes.

She dumps the cache onto the desk and starts counting (I hope she's not going to stuff them back into the container after this). Kevin, as expected, is out immediately, although he still seems surprised by his loss. The mark of an eternal optimist! Also a madman. Pam reaches 49—Jim wins! Jim wins!—and Kevin complains it's not fair, since Jim has spent hours and hours standing up at this desk ("No, constantly, like, for years."). Both Jim and Karen shift uncomfortably as he goes on and on being Kevin. I don't know; maybe he really thinks Jim has been up here counting the jelly beans all this time.

Later, in his office, Michael is staring at his computer monitor: "Pam, depression is as scary as a baler, right?" Pam, with the infinite patience and everlasting hope of one who still believes escape is possible, says, sincerely, "I don't understand the question." 

"Working in an office can lead to depression, which can lead to suicide," Michael informs her. "Nobody commits suicide because they work with a baler! And yet those guys are making fun of me, calling me a Nerf." He seems pretty pleased with himself: on the sliding scale of workplace peril, suicide trumps all! He's already forgotten how much trouble Wikipedia got him (and Wikipedia) into last week.

And then Pam makes her one big mistake: "It's really hard to demonstrate depression," she says. "Their safety training had visuals."

Wow. What did she think she was going to accomplish by pointing that out, out loud? She must be tired today or something, because she doesn't even realize what she's done. Michael's face lights up like a Christmas tree and he flits off on some tangent about the science museum, and metal balls, and hair, and science, but Pam is hardly listening. "So you're okay?" she asks. She's just glad she could raise his spirits, which is at least 95% of her job, because that means she's done her job. "Indubitably," he enunciates, carefully, and she makes a grateful exit while visions of sugarplums dance in his head.

Now we're in the hallway, just outside the main door to the office. Michael is brainstorming depression tactics with Dwight. Nothing but bad (the good kind) can come of this. And, indeed, Dwight helps talk him right into the corner, shaking his head balefully while Michael recaps the depths of their shame: "They used props, they used visual aids, and they just made us look like dopes." 

"Idiots!" Dwight agrees. "God! What are we gonna do!?" As usual, his enthusiasm for the solution—whatever that might be—eclipses the fundamental nature of the problem. "I don't know," Michael answers, "because you know what our killer is?" To which Dwight, nodding confidently—because he is Dwight, and because all of the best humor in this show comes simply from knowing who these characters are—replies, "Wolves," just as Michael says, "Depression." 

Oh my. It's not just that they're so perfectly dumb together, it's the blind, willful, almost magisterial faith that they have in the pursuit of their own dumbness, which thus far has almost always ended in abject failure. Luckily neither of them can really recognize failure, which means the pursuit is all, and always successful. You know? 

Anyway, Dwight also brings up the necessity of visual aids. "A quilt," he suggests, apropos of nothing but AIDS. "A depression quilt."

Michael, pacing back and forth, actually entertains this for a moment, then sighs quietly. "I can't—No time to sew a quilt." He thinks for another moment, and suddenly, a lightbulb: "I got it. Get me the number for the giant big box toy store." This is it, this is why he's the boss, this is why he makes the big bucks, why he got the 12%. Dwight asks no questions, just takes off like a shot, happy to help in the pursuit of the dumbness.

Act III.

Dumbness achieved! Michael's in the parking lot, bouncing on a trampoline. Talking as he bounces, expositing his foolproof plan: he'll "bounce here for a while, relieve some stress, then move on with my day. NOT!" Oh dear; as if that wouldn't be bad enough. Actually, what he's going to do is have Dwight corral the workers out here while he heads up to the roof. And here's his visual aid: he's going to jump off the roof, in full view of everyone—"And then I say, Hey! You ever seen a suicide?"—only instead of killing himself, he will naturally land on this here trampoline, "take a few extra bounces for fun, I climb off, walk around the corner, ta-freakin'-da!" Super fun! And, as a nice side note, he side notes, while they're busy thinking he's dead, everyone will realize they should have been nicer to Michael. Which is all that ever really matters to Michael. The scene ends with Dwight nodding in full agreement that this is probably the best stratagem ever. There's just no way it can go wrong.

Inside, Kelly is explaining the guiding principles of Netflix to Ryan, who keeps glancing at his watch as she explains and explains and explains: top of the queue, sequential order, Love Actually, Uptown Girls, click click click—"Oh no, what do I do?"—Love Actually again, etc., etc. It goes on for quite a while; Netflix could probably use this in an ad or something. It makes total sense in a totally Kelly way.

While she talks, we see Karen and Jim checking their watches in the background; everyone else hovers. Then, one by one, Karen, Phyllis, Creed, Pam, and finally Jim all lay down money on the desk in front of Ryan. Naturally Kelly is oblivious to everything but the sound of her own voice and the face of her beloved. She ends her story with an incredulous "It's so easy, Ryan. Do you really not know how Netflix works?" Ryan beams, then stands and kisses her on the forehead. "I guess I forgot," he says. Proud of his girl. I'm really taking a shine to these two lately, and I used to kind of hate them both, or at least find them expendable. Like all the couplings on this show, they just make each other better. Kelly smiles sweetly and says, "You're such a ditz," before she walks away. 

"Ryan, well done," Kevin says when she's out of earshot. He's counting the bills. "Two minutes, forty-two seconds. Additionally, Pam, you win $10 because she said 'awesome' twelve times—Jenna Fischer gives a kick-ass little cheer here—"and Jim, you win $5 because she mentioned six romantic comedies." Jim clenches his fist in solidarity with himself.

I mean, come on: it's like a two-minute, diamond-encrusted capsule of brilliant writing and inspired acting, and it's presented as a total throwaway. Win-win-win.

Meanwhile, Michael and Dwight have made it to the roof. Dwight couldn't be more excited; he must smell the blood in the air. Michael's having second thoughts. "Maybe we should test this first," he says, squinting against the sun. "Letterman style." Oh yeah. And he goes straight for the good stuff: "Go buy some watermelons," he tells Dwight, and Dwight replies, "Seedless?" Does it matter? I guess it matters if you're Dwight, but Michael just shakes his head. He sure looks cute out here in the natural light.

Back to the betting: Creed sits at his computer, playing solitaire as he takes a huge bite from an apple and places it back on his desk. Everybody else is lined up behind him—at some distance, but still. Anybody but Creed would feel the stare of twenty eyes crawling up the back of their neck. Toby turns to the camera, and explains, sotte voce: "Creed is eating an apple. I found a potato." (Note: This may be my favorite Office quote ever. Ever.) He says it like this is something he does every day: finds potatoes. 

Pam—ever the eager caper enabler—walks over to Creed and distracts him with an easy "Hey," while Jim replaces the apple with the potato. Smooth. When Pam walks away, Creed picks up the potato and takes a big bite, sets it down again, and goes back to his game, none the wiser. Or is he? With Creed you're never sure. He's the type of guy who would just say to himself, "What the fuck? I thought that was an apple," and move on, and eat the whole potato just because it's there, or maybe without even realizing it's now a potato, or think somehow the apple actually turned into a potato. It can hardly be the weirdest thing he's ever eaten.

In the background, Kevin is smiling, doling out more money. Everyone looks happy but Karen, who admits, "I don't know this place as well as I thought I did. I'm getting cleaned out." Yeah. I applaud her willingness to play along, though. It's never easy being the new girl who dates the cute boy the office sweetheart is in love with. 

Up on the roof, Dwight and Michael are ready for their big test. Dwight holds a watermelon at chest level, then pitches it over the side, where it takes one flawless bounce off the trampoline and onto the hood of a perfectly pristine pretty white car, smashing into a thousand pink, juicy, sticky pieces. I've watched this clip about forty times now, and I can't wait for the DVD commentary on this episode; you gotta wonder how many tries it took before they got that shot, which looks like one continuous take. It's like one in a million. 

Michael watches all this in horror ("Bingo! Oh, crap"), then shifts back into boss gear at impressive speed: "Deactivate the car alarm, clean up the mess, find out whose car that is. If it's Stanley's, call the offices of James P. Albini, see if he handles hate crimes. Also, take apart the trampoline, stick it in the baler."

Dwight: "We're not allowed to use the baler."
Michael: "Have P—adge do it, or the Sea Monster."

Damn. Even Jan would high-five him on that. And I like how he trips over both "Pudge" and "Madge" here, settling on the compromise that makes just enough sense to him. He bluffs a smile at the camera, beginning to sense the holes around the edges of his plot, while Dwight takes off like a superhero. He lives for this stuff enough to entrust the next phase to his arch nemesis. Standing behind Andy while he flips through a binder for "cover," he launches into the following exchange, for which Rainn Wilson and BJ Novak have got to win some kind of award someday: 

Dwight: "I'm temporarily lifting the shun."
Andy: "Thank you."
Dwight: "Means nothing. I need you to do something for me." 
Andy, whispering obediently: "Anything." 
Dwight: "Okay, calm down. I need you to acquire an inflatable house and/or castle." 
Andy: "You mean a moon bounce?"
Dwight: "What do you think? You've got an hour."
Andy: "I'm gonna need petty cash."
Dwight slices one hand through the air: "Shunning resumed."
Andy: "Do you—do you want a drawbridge?"
A drawbridge?
Dwight, with another karate chop: "Unshun. Yeah, that sounds good." (another chop) "Reshun."

Fabulous! Andy can't believe his luck. He is now Dwight to Dwight's Michael.

Cut to a billowing purple castle hidden behind some bushes to the side of the parking lot; the trampoline has apparently been dispensed with. Pudge must be earning her keep. Dwight leans over the side of the building, telling Michael this is much safer, an "excellent decision." Michael says "Yes," while inside somewhere, very deep down, the one peapod-sized part of his animal brain that can sense danger tries to scream, "Nooooooo!" But Dwight has already confirmed the rightness of his first decision—the jumping—so he clamps down hard on his fear, like a Real Man would. Even when Dwight says he should try to "land like an eight-year-old. These castles are not designed for adults." 

Michael balks again, and Dwight tells him they can do another test, he's got plenty of watermelons in his trunk. But Michael says no, and this time he sucks it up for good: "This is about doing, not thinking." Which is the precise reason why Michael Scott is Michael Scott in the first place: a thinker he is not.

Dwight takes this opportunity to launch into one of his patented air guitar jam sessions while Michael hoots along: "Michael is awesome! Jumpin' off the roof! Bouncing on a bouncy bounce! Show 'em who's boss! Rip a hole in the sun!" Now that's what I call inspiration.

"Let's do this! I'm ready to make a point!" Michael shouts. Boy, is he ever.

Dwight rushes inside to rally the troops: "Guys, listen up! Michael is up on the roof, and acting strange!" His diction is exaggerated, completely false, so no one makes a move. He's maybe not who you'd elect to be your top rally guy, but he's all Michael has. And Andy dutifully plays along, asking "What's the situation?" Dwight unshuns him only long enough to say "I think he's suffering from depression." Gosh, I think so, too.

Dwight: "I think he wants you all to come out to the parking lot and watch him die."
Blank looks all around.
Stanley: "Is it nice outside?"
Dwight: "It's gorgeous, let's go."
Stanley: "Do I need my jacket?"
Dwight: "No, it really is, it's very nice. Come on!"
Ryan:  "Will I be too warm in a long-sleeve tee?" 

Oh, the beautiful symmetry of that! BJ is slight and far too young for me, but I'd marry him anyway.

Dwight: Everyone's gonna be fine in exactly what they're wearing! Let's go!

Everyone files slowly outside, knowing this is what they think it is: they're remembering the whole ice cream sandwich letdown from "Health Care." Michael waits, eager to launch into his routine. Luckily Dwight is armed with a megaphone, so as to enhance the effectiveness of their communication, which is completely rehearsed although we didn't actually get to see them rehearse it. 

Dwight: "Michael, what's wrong?"
Michael: "Everything's wrong! The stress of my modern office has caused me to go into a depression!"
Dwight: "Depression? Isn't that just a fancy word for feeling 'bummed out'?"
Michael: "Dwight, you ignorant slut! Depression is a very serious illness! Over 32,000 people commit suicide every year, according to a 2004 study!"
Dwight: "Is that the last year that data was available?"
Michael: "Yes. My head is in such pain! And turmoil!"

He's very committed to his part here; he must still be attending improv class. 

Everyone else stands quietly by, bored, staring up into the sun, until Michael realizes the warehouse guys aren't with them. So he's just wasting his time with this performance, which pisses him off. None of this matters if he isn't demonstrating his Real Manhood to those who (most recently) impugned it.

As Dwight dashes off, Pam asks Jim what the odds are that this is real. Jim gives her 10,000 to one, which Kevin for sure wants a piece of: "If someone gives you 10,000 to one on anything, you take it. If John Mellencamp ever wins an Oscar, I am going to be a very rich dude." He smiles that sly, lazy, lopsided smile. Kevin's like a cross between Rain Man and Hannibal Lecter. And Cookie Monster.

Dwight reappears with the warehouse guys, and he and Michael take it from the top, which is worth it just to hear Michael call him an ignorant slut once more. That's been missing from our collective national vocabulary for far too long.

Next we see Creed appear from behind the same bushes that are half-concealing the castle. He's zipping up his trousers, which I for one don't want to spend too much time thinking about, especially when Jim and Pam retrace his path without a second thought. Pam looks at the castle, then up at Michael. "Oh God. Oh my God, he's gonna jump." Jim, looking at her, knows she's right—and he realizes it only because she's the one who says it. Because this season, Pam has spent most of her time being Jim, and she's gotten pretty good at it. Now it's time for him to stop pouting and step into his own shoes again. "He's gonna kill himself pretending to kill himself," he says. Swoon: meta flirting!

Together (just like old times!) they run back to the parking lot, and Jim yells up to Michael, in kind of a small voice, so as not to alarm him with too hard a slap of reality: "Hey, uh, Michael! Don't jump on the bouncy castle. You can't do that because you're going to get horribly, horribly injured." I wonder if John Krasinski made this line up on the fly, or if it was written as a plea to Michael in his own ass-backward language, because it's weird and awkward to the ear.

Pam nods, then grabs the megaphone and shouts "Hey Michael!" with a cute little Pam wave. Michael waves back, just as cute. Aww. Just when I think I've settled on my favorite pair, I switch to another. She tells him he has to come down because she has a present for him. She's so, so good. How often do you get to see a really good, decent character on television? She knows, probably without wanting to know, that she's the one he trusts more than anybody else. She also knows that what he loves best is presents. 

Only hold on: this is suddenly getting real. Or looking real, or seeming real, or something in between. The longer Michael stays up there, the more likely he is to accidentally—without actually at all meaning to—jump off the roof and kill himself, just to prove a point. That's his idea of Real Manhood, and we've seen this before: Michael Scott is true to his word. Also, something in Michael's head has started asking questions he doesn't have answers for, and it's freaking him out in a very tangible way. Not that he's actually considering suicide—he's way too self-involved and naively, blindly hopeful for that—but he's realizing what his life is, or at least looks like (small and meaningless) while he happens to be standing on the roof of a building. And you know at least one small voice inside is saying, Well, why not? So the idea that he might do it—could do it, might have a reason to do it—has at least the air of plausibility to it, which makes it terribly sad and even funnier at the same time. There can be no funny without the sad. Also, it's just a TV show.

But for now he's fixating on the present, and his present. He asks Pam what it is and she says he'll have to come down and see for himself. For once he doesn't trust her. He asks Dwight what it is and Dwight says he doesn't see a present, she might be bluffing. At which point both Pam and Jim mentally punch him in the face, which, amazingly, gets through. When even Dwight comes around, you know it's serious. Only he tells Michael his present is a female Japanese robot, and no way is Michael going to believe Pam bought him a robot.

But Michael is still on the hook, because he'd also never believe Pam would lie to him: "Pam, really, what is it?"

And it's now that the one true hero steps forth—stumbles forth—out of the pack. Darryl takes the megaphone. "Mike, this is the opposite of safety. You jump, you gonna seriously hurt yourself."

Michael: "You told me that I lead a cushy, wimpy Nerf life."
Darryl: "Yeah, but I never said you had nothing to live for."
Michael: "What do I have to live for?"

Darryl looks around, stumped. Who's the super tough guy warehouse boss now? Nobody seems able to help him with this one, not even Dwight. Which is the saddest thing of all, because Dwight is always armed with a ready defense for Michael, in any situation. When you've lost Dwight, you've really lost. Finally, Darryl lands on "a lot of things." Only nobody's buying it: if you're Michael, you need something concrete, something simple and real and black and white.

Darryl:  "What about Jan? Lovely, lovely, lovely Jan, man. It's goin' good, right?"
Michael:  "It's complicated with Jan. And I don't know where I stand or what I want. The sex isn't nearly as good as it used to be."

Sigh. Poor Jan. Poor Michael. Growing weary of being the bull's-eye at the center of her special blend of condescension and consternation, not only in the professional sphere now but on an up-close, intimate, purely sexual level. I guess that was inevitable.

Darryl: "Mike, you're a very brave man. I mean, it takes courage just to be you. To get out of bed every single day knowing full well you gotta be you."
Michael:  "You really mean that?"
Darryl:  "I couldn't do it. I ain't that strong and I ain't that brave."
Michael:  "I'm braver than you?"
Darryl:  "Way braver! You Braveheart, man."
Michael: "I Braveheart. I am."
Darryl:  "Come on down, okay?"
Michael:  "Okay." 

He turns to the camera, turns to leave, and then—let's say it again: Steve Carell, I adore you—he peers over the edge of the building once more, down at the ground, and says, "Pam, I'm coming down to get my present."

He descends to cheers. "An office is as safe as the people in it. And sometimes those people can drive you to do crazy things to show the dangers of the office." He gives a hero's salute, taking the bow he believes he's earned. In Michael's head, there can never be enough bows, or enough clapping, for all he gives of himself to these people. His family: after all, he was only keeping them safe. "That's the danger I found myself in today. I saved a life—my own. Am I a hero? I really can't say. But, yes."

Tag.

Stanley, in the parking lot, stares with mouth agape at the thousand pink, juicy, sticky pieces of watermelon that cover his otherwise perfectly pristine pretty white car.

The Office: Cocktails

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!

Cold open.

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.

Act I.

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.

Act II.

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."

Act III.

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: "Michael—"
Michael: "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!

Tag.

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.

The Office: Back from Vacation

Teaser.

Close-up on an Uncle Sam statuette in an empty office. Or is it George Washington? I can never tell. (Note: I kid.) In the background we see the conference room, where Jim is flanked by his crackerjack sales staff: Dwight, Karen, Ryan, Stanley, Phyllis, and Andy. He is informing them that they have to push cardstock this week. No one wastes any time pretending to care about this directive, which is how meetings usually go in my office, too. "Cardstock" is just one of those keywords that means you chose the wrong major in college.

Dwight takes a moment to place a small voice recorder on the table in front of him, telling Jim that it's "for recording." In exactly the tone of voice you're hearing in your head right now. He reminds us all that Michael is on vacation (in sunny Sandals, Jamaica, cats!), and says that in his absence Michael has asked Dwight to record all meetings and type up the transcripts. I'd say there's about an 8% chance Michael actually made that request. Although if he did, it would only be so he could know how much time they spent in each of their meetings talking about Michael.

Jim shrugs it all off and turns to ask Karen a serious sales question, to which she responds, and then—still looking at Karen—he suddenly says, in a stern, louder-than-normal voice, "Oh my God, Dwight, what are you doing?" Dwight looks up, all, Um, just focusing on my task, thanks, while Jim tells him "You're not allowed to take off your pants in the middle of the office!" Dwight is perplexed by this. "I'm not," he says, sounding more guarded than confident, as if he suspects that somehow, without intending to, he actually might be removing his pants. Jim tells him to back off and accuses him of committing sexual harassment (maybe not for the first time), when finally Dwight's eyes light upon the recorder: bingo! It's all coming together now.

"Oh my God!" Jim yells next. "He's got a knife!" "I do not have a knife," Dwight explains to the recorder. He's getting nervous, though, because he's going to have to transcribe all this later, letter for letter, and Michael might actually think this part is true. By the time Jim accuses him of standing naked with a plastic knife to Stanley's throat, Dwight has really had it, and he shouts, "Let the record show that Jim Halpert is a liar!" Everyone else (except Stanley, who doesn't glance up from his notepad) is smiling by now, ready to pitch in with the fun. Wait—did I say crackerjack before, or crackpot? Actually, what the notes from this meeting will show is that all manner of shenanigans can erupt even when Michael isn't around to facilitate it, the thought of which would probably make him cry.

Now Jim grabs the recorder and speaks directly into it: Dwight is wearing a baby's bonnet! Then Phyllis steps up to the plate: "Jim Carrey just walked in, Dwight, get his autograph for Michael!" Also something Michael would believe. Dwight disputes this, as well, but not without turning to check the door behind him. Next Karen asks if that's a Muppet Babies tattoo on his stomach, and Dwight glances down at his shirtfront. This is getting a little sad: he's defenseless against his own strict moral code of conduct and transcribing. What to do?

Luckily there's a secret weapon sitting directly across the table from him: buzz kill, thy name is Andy. Andy, whose crazy eyes flit crazily back and forth as he waits for his moment in the sun. Like a buzzard. Finally it's time, and he delivers with a massive misread of team spirit:  "I am now chopping off Phyllis's head with a chainsaw!" he bellows. Which shuts them all up fast, especially when he follows that up with a couple of impromptu chainsaw noises. They stare at him, then down at the table. And it's back to cardstock.

Act I.

Michael's back from vacation! Michael's back from vacation! After getting lots of good hot lovin', one would hope. He certainly looks vacated: he enters wearing his suit and overcoat and three rasta beads braided into a lock of his hair. Oh, dear, he got no lovin' at all! Unless he paid for it, although he seems a little too scared of sex to go around hiring professionals. He's carrying his briefcase, a big box, and about fourteen bags"”which look to be filled with leis. Sigh. There's so very little about him that makes any sense at all, and yet it all just makes me squeal with delight. I can't even tell you. Plus he looks tan and happy and super sexy. He stops for a moment in front of reception and scans the far horizons of his little fiefdom: Daddy's home!

Nobody notices, or cares to. Not even Pam, who looks up only when he greets her with a loud "Hey, mon!" She's got to look up sometime. "Hey!" she says, and then she launches right into her counterattack: "You have a bunch of messages." Trying not to notice the beaded hair he's waving in her face. She throws him a quick "That's nice," and just keeps on talking. Guess what? she says. Hannah the breast feeder quit! And is suing the company, undoubtedly because of Michael, so Michael might (will definitely) have to be deposed.

But he's hearing none of this: "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah," he tells her. Which must sound like everything else he says to her: it's all one long blur of blah. He tells her to relax; he'll get to it all later, and she says, mostly to herself, "It's kind of serious." But serious and Michael Scott no longer exist on the same plane. Did they ever? It's hard to remember. "Aren't you going to ask me how Jamaica was?" he says, and then he leans in and whispers, "Say it! Ask me." He's just about ready to pee in his pants, he wants this so badly. A good time is a total waste of time unless he can share it with his public. So Pam takes a deep, cleansing breath and starts the whole conversation over, complete with the kind of enthusiasm she can't possibly be compensated for: "How was Jamaica?"

"It was so good!" he cries. So good even he can't believe it! Guess he got that sweet, sweet lovin' after all. And this is all he needs to attack the rest of the office with his joy, this one small note of permission. "Hey mon!" he yells to the others, who again neglect to respond. He sallies forth: "At Sandals, Jamaica, when somebody says "˜Hey mon,' everybody says "˜Hey mon' back!" I think he really believes Sandals is a city in Jamaica.

The only person who approaches, though, is Stanley, and it's not with a "Hey mon" back, it's with a bitch about his bonus check being a hundred bucks short. Honestly, Stanley, semantics at a time like this? Michael tells him to bother payroll; they told Stanley to bother Michael, and he's not doing "a lick more work" until he gets his full bonus check. I like that Stanley talks like Andy Griffith sometimes. Michael accuses him of not being as much fun as his Jamaican "bruddas." For this he gets Stanley's pursed lips and Stanley's eye roll, and the back of Stanley's head. I also like that Stanley looks a little like Bleeding Gums Murphy.

Next we see Karen and Jim in the breakroom, where unease and nonromance chill the air. She's pouring herself a cup of coffee and he's leaning against the counter, all nine shaggy-haired, blue-shirted, nice guy feet of him. It's obvious she's mad even before he says, "You wanna talk about it?" What a nice guy thing to say. God; nice guy boyfriends are the worst. Seriously. Because even when they're behaving like total dicks, it's impossible to hate them because you know, deep down, they're so nice. Bastards: just let us hate you! Karen stalks out, leaving him to grimace alone.

She enlightens the camera: two months in a Scranton hotel isn't quite the Four Seasons she'd hoped for, and just yesterday she found an apartment two blocks from Jim. Which is every young girl's dream, right? And some old ones, too. Only Jim naturally finds this unnaturally close: what if sometime Pam wants to come over? is what he (and we) are thinking. What I'm thinking is Karen needs to do something with her hair. A saucy little bob like Kelly's would be cute, something bouncy and chin length with layers. Just an idea.

But I digress. It's back to the grindstone for everyone but Michael, who has no intention of doing any work at work today. He came in to learn how to play the steel drum while forcing Pam to watch. She doesn't even bother smiling, although she works her way up to a not-discouraging shrug. Now there's your team spirit. They make some steel drum small talk, and he informs her he's never been out of the country before. This fails to surprise her. Jamaicans have it pretty good, he thinks—"they just relax and party all the time, which of course doesn't jibe with Pam's reality check that "it's kind of an impoverished country." But he skips a mental rock right over that one and tells her to "make a note: I want us all to start having pina coladas every day at three." Hot dog! I'll bring the teeny tiny paper umbrellas.

But Pam immediately craps all over his mellow: they can't have inter-office cocktails today because they have to do inventory. Michael pouts. He specifically went to Jamaica in December so he could miss inventory! She tells him they postponed it until he got back. That must have been Toby's Christmas present, to make up for the whole robe-stealing thing.

"Inventory is boring," Michael tells the camera. "In the islands, they don't make you do stuff like take inventory. Why do you think so many businesses move to the Caymans?" I'm not sure; maybe they thought the Love Boat docked there.

But eventually he settles on today's master plan, one that allows him to be the boss and the Jamaican King at the same time: he'll throw an Inventory Luau!

Michael: "I want to bring a little slice of paradise back to the Dunder Mifflin warehouse inventory. So, party planning committee, get on it."
Angela: "By the end of the day? That's impossible!"
Michael: "The Jamaicans don't have a word for impossible."
Jim: "Yep. It's English. It's "˜impossible.' "

No comment from Michael—if he doesn't respond, it's like it was never said.

Angela: "Michael, there's no way we can do it in time."

Michael (talking head): "How hard is a luau? All you need are some grass skirts, pineapple, poi, tiki torches, suckling pig, some fire dancers— That's all you need."

Well then: done and done!

Still, he can see they're in need of a more hands-on lesson in the art of soaking up the island vibe, so he gathers everyone in the conference room for show and tell. Karen slips in last, passing up the empty chair next to Jim in favor of a spot in the back between Creed and Kelly. Poor Jim. Will the course of not-true love ever run smooth?

Michael queues up his Jamaica slideshow on the TV, and we see a picture of him on the beach, holding a frothy drink in one hand and giving a thumbs up with the other, standing beside a thatch-roofed bar and a sign that says "No shirt, no shoes, no problem." I can maybe see him wanting people to show up at work shirtless, but without shoes? Did he forget Kevin has that foot thing? Yick. Let's keep that stuff under wraps, people.

Thankfully it's only the Jamaican laissez-faire attitude he's aspiring to, not the wardrobe free-for-all. "So what if we have to stay late and do inventory?" he says. "No problem!" Forgetting, I guess, that he was the one who had a problem with it not five minutes ago.

Pam is staring at him with a blank expression (this might be just to the left of cardstock on the boredom spectrum) until she sees, on the TV screen—oh my God!...is it?...could it be?... "Oh my God, is that Jan?"

Oh my God! It's Jan. Wearing a bikini. In Jamaica. With Michael! Oh, will you bless my dear little shipper heart: if there's anything I love more than each of them separately, it's both of them together. This stuff never happens; the couples I want to couple never actually couple, so it's sort of the culmination of a lifelong dream. I don't know. Something about so much mutual professional hostility mixed with twisting gender stereotypes, major physical chemistry, a sort of quietly held affection, and the fact that he's the only one who can ever get her to let loose with a genuine smile. They're irresistible.

But Michael goes ahead and tries to resist it anyway, and badly; no, that's a German woman named Urkelgru, he tells them, all regretful/happy his plan turned out exactly the way he subconsciously hoped it would. Still, please don't ever let him name a child.

Cut to a talking head in his office: "Jan told me to play it cool and not tell anybody because it could get us both into trouble." (He must think "playing it cool" means something else.) "So, officially, I did not see her— But I did see Jan there. In our room. At night. And in the morning. That's all I'm gonna say." Trying in vain to hide that naughty little smile. Then, starting under his breath and growing to full volume, he continues: "Sex. Sex. We had sex. I had sex with her. I had sex with Jan." And he's smiling. Oh, how he's smiling: life has never been better than this for Michael Scott. Partly it all comes across as a pathetic adolescent boast, and partly as if he's still trying to convince himself it really happened. No wonder he needed photographic evidence.

Next he places—what else—a phone call to Todd "Two Thumbs" Packer. Oh, Michael. Not only do you have no real friends, the friends you think you have are people nobody else wants as friends. And what sort of a life is that? No life at all, my friend. When he says he just got back from Jamaica, Packer tries to one-up him with a tale from his trip to "Hotlanta," but Michael cuts him off. For once he actually has a real story to tell"”one guaranteed to impress even an asshat tool like Packer.

Michael: "Yeah, that sounds amazing, but you know what? The lady Jan Levinson wanted to go to Montego Bay."
Packer: "You took the ice queen? I don't buy it."
Michael: "Well, I'm looking at a photo right now, and, I'm tellin' ya, could be in Maxim."

On his monitor we see a photo of Jan lying on a beach chair in a black bikini, sprawled out on her stomach with the straps of her top untied, so you can see the full side of one breast. Her eyes are closed. What a mistake, to fall asleep with Michael Scott around. Not the first but potentially the most serious in what I'm sure will be many, many, many lapses of judgment on her part. He's kneeling next to her wearing a Sandals t-shirt, yet another frothy drink in one hand and the other arm spread wide and proud: hey, look at the babe I bagged, mon!

Packer: "They wouldn't give you a subscription to Maxim."
Michael: "Oh no? Okay. Well—check this out. I'm sending you some email."

Oh. Please don't. But before you can scream, Please don't!...he does. And doesn't: naturally the email goes not to "Packer@dundermifflin.com," but "Packaging@dundermifflin.com." "Uh-oh," he mumbles, and five seconds later, Packer says, "Wait. I just got it from somebody else. Wow. This is hot! Damn! How do I get you out of this picture?" We know immediately that Michael is distressed by this turn of events because he passes up the opportunity to give Packer a Photoshop tutorial and instead goes tearing down the hallway towards the warehouse as fast he can, only to burst into Darryl's office and find him—staring at a photo of half-naked Jan on his computer screen.

[Let's pause for today's "Steve Carell Swoon" and appreciate his physical commitment to character here. Uncle Frank in Little Miss Sunshine ran just exactly the way you would expect him to run, and so does Michael Scott: with short steps and arms out at the elbows and quick horizontal cuts through doorways, the flaps of his jacket flying in the breeze behind him. Sigh.] 

Act II.

Anyway. Darryl sits back in his chair, feet propped up on his desk, gnawing on a chicken wing as he stares at a photo of half-naked Jan on his computer screen. Oh, Jan. Jan Jan Jan. Nothing you've ever done in your whole entire lifetime could be deserving of such a sad, cruel fate as this.

Darryl: "What's up, Mike?"
Michael: "That's great!" (eyes on the photo) "Okay, um, so did you get an email from me?"
Darryl (eyes on the photo):  "Yep."
Michael: "Okay. Well, that was supposed to go to Packer, not packaging. Did you already, um, forward it to a whole bunch of people?"
Are you kidding me? You bet your sweet ass he did! Darryl knows a good thing when he sees it.
Darryl: "Uh-huh."
Michael: "Okay. Um, well. Did you get the second email that I sent? Explaining that the first email was a mistake and that you should delete it?"
Darryl:  "Yep."
Michael:  "And you sent that out to everyone?"
Darryl (eyes on the photo): "Mike, I'm very busy down here." (gnaws on chicken wing)

Up in the office, Jim, Meredith, and Andy are gathered around Kevin's computer. "Yikes," Jim says. "Already sent it to you, my friend," Kevin tells him. You just knew Kevin would be front and center on this one. Andy tells them to wake him when she rolls over; he seems like a hardcore kind of guy, or at least the kind of guy who would lie about being hardcore. Which is really worse, if you think about it.

Pam walks in on Jim sitting alone in the breakroom, looking all mellow and reflective. Probably enjoying a soothing afternoon cup of Tension Tamer tea. Keep on walking, Pam. But she can't. She pours herself some coffee and asks if he's okay. He says yeah and she asks if he's sure. Dammit, Pam! One day soon she's going to regret this X-ray vision she has into people's souls, especially when she asks him if he wants to talk about it. Especially when he does.

Michael sits perched on the edge of Dwight's desk. "I have a special assignment for you," he whispers. Yay! Another meeting of the brain trust. Dwight couldn't be happier: he lives for special assignments, and code names. Michael reels him in with both: "A sensitive email has been released to the office. It contains a file, a picture. The file name is "JamaicanJanSunPrincess." "What's it of?" Dwight asks. This is the reason he'll never get that callback from the CIA: he has no shortage of will or initiative, but his wildly overactive imagination is always taking the wrong U-turn. "Not important," Michael says, and Dwight replies that he won't do it unless Michael tells him everything. Still such a sheriff's boy! Michael says "Forget it" and starts to walk away, so Dwight caves. Such a Michael's boy.

Back to the breakroom. "So, I don't know, I just feel like, we've been dating a month. Right?" Jim says. I don't know, man, why are you asking us? "Same street? I think that might be a little close. Little bit much." Pam just sits and listens, practical Pam in her sensible shoes, and then"”tearing the hole in her own heart a little wider, and ignoring the pain"”tells him, essentially, that he's being a horse's ass. Isn't Karen living just ten minutes away now? she reminds him. Maybe he should give her a break. And she says it so generously, thinking she's actually being helpful, and you can see how proud it makes her to be this big person, to do this much for him. To let them both believe they're over each other. "I didn't mind helping Jim with his problem," she tells the camera. "That's what friends do." Not when they're this generation's Joanie and Chachi, they don't. I think what she's going to learn is being the nice girl sometimes takes a pretty heavy toll.

Creed is sitting in front of his computer, chin in hand, staring at half-naked Jan. This just gets worse and worse.

And worse: Toby enters Michael's office and closes the door. "I need to talk to you," he says, and Michael tells him, "Not now. Not ever." Toby says it looks from the photo like Michael and Jan have entered into an intimate relationship. You think? Michael glimpses a small ray of hope: "That photo is my personal property, and if you are telling me you went on my computer and stole that photo, then I am going to call the cops."  He picks up the receiver, but no dice: "Michael, nine different people emailed me that photo, including my ex-wife. And we don't talk, you know." "Then this is probably the ice breaker you need," Michael says. There you go: always thinking of others.

"For your own protection, you should disclose this to HR," Toby says. But to formalize this according to corporate mandates would take the romance out of the whole thing for Michael, who is actually, in his heart of hearts, a teenage girl who still believes in true love.

Michael: "I bet you would love all the details, wouldn't you? You skeevy little perv."
Toby: "All right, if you're having a relationship with your superior, you must disclose it."
Michael: "No, no, no. I'm not dating Jan, she was very clear about that. Just two like souls having a romantic time in the most romantic place on earth."

Huh. I always thought that was Las Vegas, or the Mall of America.

Conference room: Angela is shouting orders as she shreds sheets of green paper. Her nerves are a little jangled. More than usual, I mean. "We only have three hours, people, to plan a whole luau! And you're not helping!" Karen asks what the ingredients are in poi (answer: nothing you want to know about), and Phyllis is having trouble tracking down a whole pig. "Did you try the petting zoo?" barks Angela. Angela rocks; she really is a female Dwight who's been stuffed into a miniaturizing machine and blondified. Same rigid ethics, same devout, militaristic attention to detail, same careless disregard for the horrification she inspires in others. It's all good.

At reception, Pam answers the phone. Oh my God, it's Jan! For Michael! "Oh God! No, no," he hisses. His greatest dream is turning into his greatest nightmare, and he'll avoid it as long as he can. He tells Pam to hang up. No, tell Jan he's not here. No, tell her he's run out of gas. No, tell her he hit a deer with his car. No, he hit a cat. (A cat? Is that better or worse than a deer?) Pam patiently endures his back-and-forth improv and tells Jan he'll call her back. "Do you think she bought it?" he asks, and Pam gives him a reassuring nod. Disaster averted. He steps gingerly into his office as Dwight asks, "Michael hit a deer?"

We see Michael sitting at his desk, eyes closed. Hoping to beam himself to some far, safe moment in the future, probably. Dwight for some reason elects to bypass the office door, which is ajar, and slides open the window instead, poking his head in through the blinds. Because that's what a secret agent would do. He's definitely devoted to his job: there's been an emergency in the warehouse involving a photograph, he reports. Michael chucks something at the camera as he leaps from his chair and tears out of his office screaming "No, no, no, no, no—" That oft-repeated refrain. He and Dwight race to the warehouse to find a larger-than-life-sized full-color poster of half-naked napping Jan—and smiling Michael!—pasted to the wall.

The warehouse guys give him a standing ovation. Roy calls him a rock star and Darryl shouts, "Got that corporate booty!" Oh, Michael:  first Packer, and now this! Another dream. What can he do? Immediately sacrifice the long-sought respect he's finally just earned, or risk losing the woman he loves? Another nightmare. It hurts, doesn't it, flying so close to the sun? When you're Michael Scott, winning is just as hard as losing. He gives them a victory wave and files back out. Denial and procrastination are a refuge: his turtle brain is winning.

He and Dwight sprint back to the office, where he calls everyone to attention. "Apparently there is an email circulating around that contains a very PG-13-rated picture of me and a woman." Kevin: "Jan." "No, Kevin, a woman. Maybe Jan, maybe—" "Urkelgru," Jim offers. Michael disregards this and asks them all to delete the email if they get it, sight unseen. "Let's be professional," he says. Totally, let's! I'll bring the teeny tiny paper umbrellas.

Cut to Michael standing alone outside in the frosty air, singing "Feelin' hot hot hot" while accompanying himself half-heartedly on his steel drum. Pam sticks her head out the door. "Hey! What are you doing out here?" she asks. Looks cold. "Island living," he tells her, trying and failing to sound as if the island life hasn't already been sucked right out of him. "You know." It must have been nice for a while.

"Jan called," Pam says. "She's coming in later to talk to you." "Did she say what it's about?" he asks, and Pam shakes her head. Retreats. He puts his head down, taps once more"”softly, plaintively"”on the drum. His own private dirge. Here we are, a boy and his drum and his dream, all slipping away.

Act III.

On to the warehouse: Inventory Luau! Major props to Angela for pulling this one together, inflatable palm trees and all. I think she's wearing a grass skirt, as she slices Spam. That's my vegetarian girl! Andy has taken up the steel drum, and the song, and he's pounding to the beat of his own insaniac drummer. Kevin looks on, feeling co-opted. Scrantonicity, man! This is like watching a crime being committed right before his very sad, half-lidded eyes.

Karen is busying inventorying (yo, spellcheck approved!) a shelf when Jim approaches with a sheet of paper in hand. A lease. "I think you dropped this," he tells her. She looks, she smiles. "You sure?" "Definitely," he says, in that gentle Jim voice we all know and love and want to hear directed at someone else. Either us or Pam, take your pick. Karen smiles again. Rats.

Michael enters for a quick Dwight update: "I have disconnected the office T-1 line, I have ordered that that be taken down""”pointing at the poster on the warehouse wall"”"and destroyed all printouts from the bathroom." "There were copies in the bathroom?" Michael asks. "There were. A lot of them," Dwight reports. Kevin or Creed, you think? Michael tries to scurry away, eager to avoid the cameras. If you can't see him, it's like he's not even there. It's like magic, or being a big fat fraidy-cat chicken.

Pam is inventorying her own shelf when Karen steps up to thank her. "I think I owe you one," Karen says. Pam plays it all sweet and innocent. "For talking sense into Halpert," Karen explains. Blech. I've worked with several women who operate on the last-name-only basis with close friends and/or lovers and I've never understood it. Is it some sort of power thing, or inverted laziness? Please enlighten. Pam shrugs it off and tells her, "Don't worry about it. I mean, he was being ridiculous." Pam! Do you never tire of being such a selfless giver? Take something! Take! Karen thanks her again and walks away, and then it hits her: what she's done. The heaviness of this toll. Her face falls. What did I tell you? Too much giving.

[I'm skipping over the Darryl-finds-his-iPod scene. Perhaps it will make sense one day, but tragically that day has not yet arrived.]

Oh dear. Dear, dear. Pam sits alone on a bench in a hallway. Crying. It's hitting too hard, now—nobody wants to see Pam cry. Not even—maybe especially—Dwight. Who stumbles upon her and immediately asks, "Who did this to you? Where is he?" Ready—nay, eager—to kick somebody's ass. "It's nothing," she tells him. But it's not nothing; even Dwight can see that. He stands still for a moment, then slowly removes his suit coat. Pam looks up, expectant, and watches him tie the coat around his own waist. "It's hot in here," he says. That's it; how to handle a woman, my boy. But he reaches into a pocket and pulls out a hankie, and hands it to her. A hankie! I always thought Dwight had a lot in common with my grandma. He looks away awkwardly, then sits beside her. "You don't need to stay here," she says, and he nods. "I know." And we all fall just a little bit in love with Dwight. Who puts one arm around Pam's shoulders as she begins to weep again. Who looks like he's going to cry himself. Who asks, with such sympathy and tenderness and so little understanding: "Guess you're PMSing pretty bad, huh?" Amazing. [Dear Rainn Wilson: You'll always be my hero. Love, Trix.]

Back to the warehouse, where someone drives the forklift across the floor, crushing Michael's drum. He watches, expressionless. One more dream—. He's not even surprised anymore; he's forgotten Jamaica, what it felt like to feel that happy. Nothing but gray skies ahead.

Cue Jan's footsteps on the stairs. He looks up, shrinks back into himself as she enters, head held high and haughty. Ice queen, indeed. He looks away, down at the ground, closes his eyes. Turtle brain: chin tucked into his neck, hoping to disappear. She stalks across the floor, a powerful woman surrounded by men who have now all seen her almost topless. They watch, smirks concealed, if badly. They're not fools. Well, not all of them. Okay, most of them. Interesting, too, that the other women have been mostly edited out of these shots. But Jan seems not to notice any of it, just glides on by, ignoring them all; she's accustomed to being stared at by large groups of smug, dirty-minded boneheads.

"Hello everyone," she announces. "Hello Michael." This she delivers in that patented Jan-speak she always directs at him, rising at the end into something that sounds like a half-order, half-surprise. "Uh," he spits out. Dear God, man, save yourself! She's going to eat you alive!

And then Kevin decides to have some fun. "Hi Jan," he says. "You look—tan." Smiling. She narrows her eyes at him. "I was in Scottsdale. Visiting my sister." Eyes back to Michael. "Yeah? How was it?" Kevin asks. This is the second most fun he's had all day, and he owes it all to Jan. "Very sunny," she says. Eyes back to Michael. "Family's important." Indeed it is.

"Michael," she says suddenly. All business. "I would like to speak with you in your office." Then she turns and saunters off again, leaving him to follow. Arguing would be futile, and she would catch him if he tried to run. He passes Dwight, who looks like he's going to cry; when he reaches the first landing of the steps, he turns slowly to survey the room. To bid his fiefdom goodbye: they all know he won't be coming back with his head, or his balls. Andy looks stoic. Kevin gives him a small wave that's half solidarity, half pity. Michael turns and continues on his sad march of doom, arms hanging limply at his sides. Somewhere in the background, the death knell of a steel drum sounds.

In his office, Jan waits. In his chair. I like that: blatant power play! To remind herself who's the boss, I suppose, which means she's in danger of forgetting. Leave it to Michael to muddy a girl's head. I wonder what she thinks of the doodles on his desk calendar; I wonder if she finds her name there, circled in hearts. He sits and he sighs; this is just like being called to the principal's office. She's not smiling. He looks like he's going to vomit, but he's ready to accept his fate. He's been here so many times before, only this will be worse than before because he finally made it this far with the girl of his dreams and hasn't all of this happened, really, because he adores her so much and wants everybody to know it? Who could blame a guy for that?

"Why am I here, Michael?" she says finally. He opens his mouth, but he's got nothing. Does she really not know? Luckily she's not expecting an answer.

"In the last year I've gone through a divorce, an identity theft, a husband who would not—communicate. This is neither here nor there. My psychiatrist thinks I have some self-destructive tendencies"—really?—"and that for once I should indulge them. You following me?"

Hell no! Not him, not me. He mumbles out a "Yes," though, because that's what she seems to want him to say, and for once he reads her right. He keeps glancing at the camera, beseeching. He's not actually hearing anything she's saying, because he's only listening for the parts that come right before and right after "you fucking moron," which for some reason she hasn't gotten to yet. In the meantime he's just holding on for dear life.

She keeps going: "I think I owe it to myself to find some kind of happiness. You know? I mean, even if it means lowering my expectations, or, or— redefining the word itself." (Oh my God! I like what I'm hearing. All thumbs up on the brilliance of this plan!)

"Okay, yeah—" he tries to break in, but he doesn't get this part either, not really, and she barrels on through. She planned this ahead of time, you can tell, and goddamn if she isn't going to get it all out. Even if it kills her. "This is the thing, you know: I am attracted to you. I don't know why"—God, they're so good here, she's all flushed and flustered and tired, and so, so pretty, and his eyes go wide with disbelief and awe and an internal high five—"but I am, and I need to follow my instincts. At least that's what Dr. Perry thinks." She clings to this; it makes it more palatable, somehow, if she can blame it all on her doctor later.

"Who's Dr. Perry?" Michael asks, and again she pushes him aside. Turns out he's sort of incidental to this whole "conversation," for which he should thank his lucky stars.

"Here's the point," she says. "Okay? You're wrong for me. In—in—every way. But I still find myself wanting to—be with you." She says this last part like she's trying to swallow the words, but they land anyway. On him: in the gladdest, most grateful way. Not only did she not kill him, she didn't even break up with him! And he gets to keep his balls.

What can he give her in return? A smile, and a whole lot of nonsense: "And I, to you, in addition, feel the same feelings that you are, as well." How awesome is that: so close to almost being half a coherent sentence. He's so happy—with her, with himself—he purses his lips and glances up at the ceiling, like he's just presented her with the greatest gift a man can bestow.

She looks confused, and a little resigned, but at least she got through it. "Good. Good," she says. This was exhausting, handing him this, as much of her heart as she's able to.

Michael does a quick head shake and says, "So, um. Thanks for comin' by." Dismissed! He seems eager to get her out of his office, as if he's afraid she'll change her mind if she stays. But he smiles. And then she smiles. And it's awkward, being caught here now, stepping back into their "professional" roles, back to manager and managed; neither of them quite knows what to do with it. How to break through. He wants her to go, she wants to go, and yet— as he steps into the doorway to see her out, she wraps her arms around him and plants her lips on his. Pushes him up against the door, hands raking through his hair—hey lady! watch the beads! But she owes herself this. Again he's surprised; his head has done at least two 180 degree turns today, and it isn't even bedtime yet! Or is it?

"Wait fifteen minutes," she whispers. "Find an excuse, meet me at your condo, okay?" What the hell? She's already been to his condo? Damn. I guess we're making up for over a year of lost time here.

She turns to leave, picking up her coat at reception. But wait: "Jan," he calls. She turns back. "You...complete...me," he says, pointing at her, drawing a heart in the air with two fingers. Aw, I knew he was a doodler! She turns her head, trying to shake this away. This silly, silly, lovely man. "Oh God," she says. And she leaves.

And that's the price you pay in dignity for a piece of Michael Scott, girls.

Tag.

Back to the warehouse. Still Inventory Luau! Things have gone quiet: Kevin is making drinks, Phyllis sits alone. Pam sits with Roy. "Hey," he says. "Remember when we were planning our honeymoon?" Hah! I don't remember you planning anything, jack. "You wanted to go to Hawaii, and I wanted to go to Mexico? I was definitely right." She laughs. He laughs. I frown. I don't get it.

We end with Kevin, folding up the half-naked Jan poster. "What am I gonna do? I'm gonna hang it up at home. I don't have a lot of art." Ew. Okay. But don't you have a fiancée?

The Office: Branch Closing

Teaser.

We open in Stamford! Bold move, Office creators, but I'll buy it, because what it coughs up is a quasi-reunion of Jim and Dwight, who together are a couple I miss even more than Jim and Pam (I'm sorry, please don't stone me, but it's true). Karen catches Jim staring at the fax machine early this morning and is all, What the hell are you staring at, Jim? He says it's hard to explain, which is true, but his talking head goes a little something like this:

"I don't have a ton of contact with the Scranton branch, but before I left, I took a box of Dwight's stationery." He holds up a sheet of Dunder-Mifflin letterhead. "So, from time to time, I send Dwight faxes. From himself. From the future." He says this last part with a quick nod and such an old-school-Jim admission of his own dork-like coolness that you can't even believe how much he doesn't belong here with these stuck-up Connecticut Yankees. Go home, Jim! And don't make me say it again. He reads while we watch Dwight receive said fax in Scranton:

Dwight,

At 8 A.M. today, someone poisons the coffee.

DO NOT DRINK THE COFFEE.

More instructions will follow.

Cordially,
Future Dwight

As Dwight finishes reading, he glances up to see Stanley exiting the kitchen with a cup of coffee and a yawn. He tears across the room, still clutching his future fax, screaming "Nooooo!!!" as he knocks the coffee out of Stanley's hand. Stanley? Not happy. Dwight says, "You'll thank me later," and it's like he's never even met Stanley before, because obviously that will never, ever happen.

Mostly, though, I love how polite and cordial and downright neighborly Future Dwight is to his present-day real life self.

Act I.

Scranton. Michael is sitting at his desk when something in the doorway catches his attention.  Jan! He greets her with the over-enthusiasm of his usual moronitude: "Love to start my day with a hearty bowl of Jan!" So what does that even mean? And then he follows it up with an equally nonsensical serenade: "Just call me Levinson in the morning, baby...." Too bad Pam can't screen his in-office greetings, too, isn't it? I suppose she has some other work to do sometimes.

Jan suffers through it, though, because she secretly loves him. Also she's dropping by to deliver some super bad news without taking much (any) time for an elaborate buildup: "I am here to tell you that we are closing the Scranton branch." Which is not a surprise if you've seen the title of the episode (suckers! spoiler alert!), but still. The Scranton branch is where we work and live and spend all our fictional spare time, and for Michael it's like five slaps in the face, coming from his imaginary would-be lover and all. But she doesn't look so happy about it, either. In fact, she looks tired and a little defeated, I like to think on his behalf. It's probably not a good sign of the state of one's emotional and/or mental health to invest more energy hoping a fake character gets lucky than oneself, is it? But then that sentence didn't make much sense, either, so we'll just move on.

Of course it's the rare piece of bad news that Michael Scott can absorb upon first hearing, so she repeats it for him: the board voted last night to close his branch. "On whom's authority?" he wonders. "The board's," she says with immense patience. He stares at her, still not believing. This is his whole world here, man! Any alternative is just not thinkable. She tells him the board thanks him for his years of service. "You're welcome," he whispers. Never a more loyal employee, never a company man more eager to please the company that's dumping him on his fortysomething mid-level management ass.

She says a small number of employees will be transferred to Stamford and the rest will get severance packages. He swallows hard and forces himself to ask: "Will I be a small number person or a severance package person?" What a great line that is, Michael Schur! Ten gold doubloons and a Jolly Good soda for you. Jan starts doling out the party line, which is they haven't made a final decision yet, then gives up and tells him he's a severance package person. She isn't able to lie to him because not only does she secretly love him, she also secretly respects him enough to know how hard this is for him to hear. She also knows he's probably going to cry. Which is exactly what he does, because he's being severed. Just like his old boss Ed Truck, only not by a truck.

Cut to the outer office, where Pam is watching this all go down, and can now hear Michael weeping. Kevin steps up to her desk and asks what's the sitch? Pam doesn't know. He asks if it's serious, and she says, "I don't know, Kev." Sounding just like old-school Jim. He tells her to call him if she finds out anything, and she says, "You got it, buddy." Then they do that knuckle-knocking thing that boys do when they want to grow up to be men. Seriously, it's like watching Jim in Pam's clothing. Don't think about that too long, though.

Inside, Michael continues to bawl like the innocent, delicate young flower he is. Jan attempts to console him, but of course is far less comfortable with his emotions than he is, so mostly she'd just like to leave. It's not easy watching him cry when all you want to do is wrap your arms around him and maybe sit in his lap. But I digress. While pulling a tissue from a drawer, he manages to trigger a pair of chattering wind-up teeth on his desktop, which he tries to halt with a dirty look and by clamping a hand down on it. No time for toys! Jan shoots a pleading look at the camera; this is going even worse than she imagined. It's not our fault you fell in love with a moron!

He tells her he doesn't understand what's happening, because their numbers were looking up. It's not all about numbers, though, it's about talent. Which means Josh, our granite-jawed, bike-riding, Midori-slamming, paper-airplane-throwing nemesis. Did I not tell you he'd turn out to be a dick? She says the CFO sees Josh playing an important role in DM's future. "Oh, really? What role is that? King of the stupid universe?" His comebacks never come out very well when he's cranky.

But she's had enough for one morning. She says they're finished and stands to leave, asking him not to tell anyone until they sort everything out at corporate. Jan! Don't be stupid. He gazes up at her and whispers: "I know you're mad. But don't do this to me. I know I hurt you, but please don't do this to me. Don't hurt me like I hurt you." Of course, because this is so personal to him, it must be personal to her, as well. After all, he's a heartbreaker. She stares, mouth agape, and walks out the door without another word.

And there you have it: branch closing!

Michael's voiceover: "It is an outrage, that's all. It's...they are making a huge, huge mistake." The camera cuts briefly to Kevin, who's tossing himself a miniature football because Oscar is still out on harassment leave. And Creed, who's munching on a handful of what we can only assume are dead-smelling mung beans. "Let's see Josh replace these people. Let's see Josh find another Stanley. You think Stanleys grow on trees?" Cut to Stanley falling asleep at his desk. "Well they don't. There is no Stanley tree. Do you think the world is crawling with Phyllises?" Phyllis is kicking back, feet up, while she knits a purple and green scarf. Bob Vance color scheme! Yuck. "Show me that farm. With Phyllises and Kevins sprouting up all over the place. Ripe for the plucking. Show me that farm." How is it possible to go from dumb to ten times dumber in a single sentence? Emmys all around, my friends. I'll throw in a Booker, an Obie, and a Nobel Peace Prize, too, plus the blue ribbon I won for tying for first place in a spelling bee when I was in the second grade.

Naturally you can't expect it will take long for Michael to spread his depression virus throughout the rest of the office, and indeed it does not. He starts with Stanley, which is maybe not the choice most of us would make, because Stanley doesn't even listen to Michael when he's giving good news. And even less when Michael picks up and comments on that Catholic schoolgirl uniform photo of Stanley's daughter, which earns him one Stanley scowl just for old time's sake. See? Life is not all sunshine and lollipops in the Stanley tree, either.

Up steps Dwight, who sounds just like a long-lost girlfriend when he says, "Hey, stranger!" Michael tells him not to be weird, but Dwight is feeling neglected: "Sorry. I just feel like we haven't talked in a while." He's right, so maybe it's time for a pajama party or something. I'll bring the Ouija board and nail polish and Rice Krispie treats. But Michael's brain is too busy trying to find a way to break his news without breaking his news: "Well, we have nothing to talk about, Dwight. Just do your work...while you still can." Oh, this cryptic doublespeak! What could it mean?

Dwight's talking head:  "When you become close with someone, you develop a kind of sixth sense. You can read their moods like a book. And right now, the title of Michael's book is, Something Weird is Going On. Colon. What Did Jan Say? The Michael Scott Story. By Michael Scott, with Dwight Schrute." OH my God, I would pay to read that book in seconds flat. I hope it's full of laughter and tears and a happy but not predictable Hollywood-type ending, just like The Bridges of Madison County. Which had a sad ending, if you think about it, although I threw my copy in the trash, so I couldn't swear I'm remembering correctly.

At any rate. On to Dateline: Stamford. Karen approaches Jim's desk, and is it my imagination or does Karen own only one gray suit that she wears every single day? Or maybe it's the same gray suit of which she owns more than one copy? Or maybe it's "grey"? So many questions! Anyway, gra(e)y definitely flatters her. She asks Jim if he's heard about his friends in Pennsylvania getting axed. He hasn't heard. Which makes sense, because technically Pam doesn't know yet, either, and their minds are supposedly connected by some kind of unrequited love osmosis. I'm thinking of trademarking that, but feel free to use it till the paperwork comes through.

Andy pounces on this opportunity to eavesdrop. "Um, sorry... the Scranton branch is closing?" Karen nods, and Andy says, "In your face!" to Jim. Jim reminds him that he works in Stamford now. Andy doesn't care and says, "Mmm"¦sucka!" Andy's like Dwight minus the charm and subtlety.

Potentially rewarding sidenote: Let's take a quiz today, okay, and try to identify which parts of this recap were written under the influence of alcohol and which were written under the influence of caffeine. First prize gets one bottle of Amstel Light (what do you want from me, I'm a girl) and second prize gets a grande soy latte at the Starbucks of your choosing. On second thought, let's make that a Natural Light and a small plain decaf at McDonald's. I'm definitely not made of money or I'd be off doing better things with my weekends.

Back to Scranton, where Michael is circling in on Pam with a big ol' shark-toothed grin that doesn't at all scream "I'M CRAZY AND HAVE BAD THINGS TO TELL YOU!" She asks if he's okay, knowing full well there is only ever one answer to that question: "Yeah, great! Amazing. Best physical condition of my life." I know we go through this every week, but God, I love him so much. Pam asks what Jan wanted, and again he fails to hit the brakes on his own runaway train of thought. "Nothing. Just checking in. I can't tell you, so..." "What can't you tell me?" she asks. He hits her with another "Nothing," and then whispers to himself, "What difference does it make? We'll be gone in a couple of weeks anyway."

Whoops! Bag open, cat gone! They "What?!" each other for a second—he's like a magician with all the too-late, too-slow distractions—and she asks him what the fuck is going on? Only not using quite such aggressive language on a Thursday night on NBC. Who knows, though, a couple of artfully placed F-bombs might be just what they need to boost the ratings.

Dwight is drawn in by the commotion, and asks Michael what Jan said: "Was she mean to you?" He's pretty ready to kick Jan's ass, from the look of things. But Michael says no, and turns to face the rest of the office. Time to announce the branch is closing, with his customary blend of cool composure and smooth sensitivity: "Listen up, everybody, I have some news." Cut to a talking head in his office, where he lies to the camera about the bravery of his face and his robust leadership abilities in times of troubled waters. Back to the outer office, where he admits, "It's over. We are screwed. Dunder-Mifflin Scranton is being shut down." This is exactly why things like getting handcuffed to boat railings and being rejected by fake girlfriends happen to him all the time: not only does he have no filter, he is completely deaf to the sound of his own words coming from his own mouth.

Toby tries to rewind a step, and says they shouldn't be talking about this until all the decisions have been made. Um, remember, Toby? Can open, worms everywhere! That's just never going to get old, is it? But what this does is give Michael the opportunity to accuse Toby of being a traitor, which again he hopes will distract everyone from the real issue of the day. Except Angela is all over this one like a dog on a bone: "What about us, Michael? Do we still have jobs?" Angela is wearing kind of a pilgrim collar today, under a flirty pink and black striped vest. Yes, it matters; clothes make the person, people.

Michael says, "I don't know. Probably not. This is the worst!" And the best. Now please take just a moment to study this picture, and then go tell all your friends and family who don't watch this show why they can no longer be in your myFaves.

Fortunately Michael has not yet finished raising morale: "So, this has been great. So let's get back to work and do the best job that we can." Then he tells Toby to join him in his office. Toby agrees under great duress and shuffles his way across the room. "Oh my God," Michael says finally. "You walk so slowly." Cool! Maybe we're going to witness a murder! Dwight closes them inside and shoos the camera away. (Another sidenote: murder does not happen; in fact, we witness no part of this conversation between Michael and Toby at all, which means it probably wasn't the kind of scene that should end up even in a producer's cut. I'm just saying: dangling plot thread!)

Next, a trio of talking heads:

Ryan: "It makes perfect sense that it would happen today because I just received this in the mail." He holds up a box. "A thousand business cards with this address and phone number."

Angela: "I don't want to blame anyone in particular. I think everyone's to blame."

Kelly, whose teary mascara is spidering down her cheeks: "If I get to stay and Ryan is laid off, I will kill myself. Like Romeo and Juliet"¦the Claire Danes one."

Dateline Stamford, where Andy is leading his coworkers in a "Stamford, Connecticut!" cheer. He's so macho, with his pinks and his checks and stripes and synchronized clapping.

Josh steps out of his office and asks Jim what's going on. Jim says they heard about Scranton, then asks Josh if he knows whether anyone will be transferring. Josh looks circumspect about the whole thing, but tells him nothing's been decided yet. He tells the rest of the crew to shut up and be professional (nicely), and resists when Andy tells him to take a bow. Hmmm"¦ Methinks Josh is hiding something up his impeccably clad sleeve.

In Jim's talking head, he explains how weird it would be if his former Scranton coworkers started showing up, like going to a high school reunion and moving in forever or something. I don't know, sometimes it's pretty clear why this stuff is cut for the on-air version.

Back in Scranton, Michael is staring glumly out his office window. Formulating many unsuccessful "Save Scranton/Save the Manager" plots in his head, I'm sure. The thing you really do know is it's not just himself he's concerned about. He's self-absorbed and inconsiderate and incredibly short-sighted and everything, but he loves his family the most, and he'll do whatever he has to do to save them. If only he were actually a formulator of successful plots.

Suddenly there's a knock at the door, and Meredith enters. "So listen, I know you're seeing someone, but I'm still willing if you are," she says. Michael and I are perplexed! She reminds him of a pact they made six years ago to sleep together on their last day of work. Michael and I are grossed out! "Oh"¦GOD!" he says. "Was that not you?" she asks. Nope! Wasn't him! "Oh. Never mind!" she tells him, and then she just turns and leaves. And for maybe the second time ever, I like Meredith.

Pam's talking head: "It's a blessing in disguise. Actually, not even in disguise. In my fantasy, I always thought I would slap someone, make a big speech, and storm out forever. But this is good, too."

I preferred what I guess is her non-producer's-cut version of that: "Sometimes at home, I answer the phone, "˜Dunder-Mifflin, this is Pam.' So, maybe that'll stop now." Yeah, I doubt it, though.

Over in Accounting, Kevin and Angela are helping Roy come to grips with the latest developments. He spends a lot of time with these two lately, doesn't he? What an odd yet awesome threesome. He asks if they know who's going where, meaning is Pam going to Stamford, but Angela pulls a fast one on us all by flirting. With Roy! "Don't worry! You're gonna be fine, Roy. You're very"¦strong. And capable." Kevin gives her his red-faced giggle, and Angela tells him to grow up as she huffs off.

Roy to the camera: "I don't wanna work here without Pam. Just be like loadin' trucks without any meaning. You know?" I think Roy has a second career as Toby Keith in his future.

Stanley, on the other hand, couldn't be happier: "I couldn't be happier. I'm gonna take the severance and retire. My wife and I are gonna travel. I really couldn't be happier." And check it out! I've always wondered what Stanley looks like when he's happy.

As Stanley starts to pack up his desk, Creed walks up and snaps a picture. "Feeling nostalgic?" Stanley asks. Creed more or less agrees without agreeing, then walks back to his computer and pulls up a digital folder of snapshots on his desktop.

Meanwhile, Michael is down visiting the warehouse. He's here to spread his inspirational brand of leadership cheer to the newly displaced blue-collar workers, which Darryl has no need of. He says Bob Vance bought the warehouse and is keeping the whole crew! That Bob Vance is just the best, isn't he? Maybe he'd be willing to buy me some day. You can forward these stats: one girl, 5'2", mid-thirtyish, freckles, original teeth, clean hair, wears shoes, eats early and often, sleeps lying down and usually in a bed, although that last part is negotiable. I don't mean to sound easy when I'm both cheap and easy.

Michael's TH:  "This is my house. The CFO is taking away my house and giving it to Josh. And Josh is giving the garage to Bob Vance."

Meaning, no way, sir! Time for some action, Agent Michael Scarn-style. He rushes out of his office with his coat. "All right, listen up! Some of you may have heard some rumors about the branch closing." Those rumors you just announced, you mean? Yes, says Stanley, we've all heard those. "But I am not going to take this lying down," says Michael. "I have a plan and I am going to save our jobs. So just hang in there."

He points to Dwight, and both Dwight and I cheer about as loudly as possible, because no plan is a plan without Dwight to help it fail. Pam, however, registers ironic skepticism: "Oh, good... you're bringing Dwight." Pam. Why so harsh? Let's hear your bright ideas! Michael says, "This might get ugly. I need backup." Right; and a guy who's packing a recorder in his hip pocket.

On their way out, Dwight asks what's the plan? Michael says, "Go to New York, confront the CFO, show him he's making a mistake, save the branch." Piece of cake, meet Michael Scott, eater of cake. Dwight asks if he can drive, and Michael shoots him down, so Dwight calls shotgun. Michael shoots that down, as well: "No. There's no one else." Dwight shrugs and says, "Still." How sad is that? Even in the special top secret hierarchy that is only him and Michael, Dwight seldom comes in second.

Act II.

Sunny day. Michael and Dwight are on their way to New York. Can I just say I love it when Michael drives Dwight around in his car? Because Michael always plays such a weird version of Exasperated Adult Dad when he gets behind the wheel of his Sebring, and Dwight is such an even weirder version of Talkative Mom, who's always irritating the shit out of Exasperated Adult Dad just by being there and talking.

Dwight, on his cell phone: "Thank you very much." He hangs up. "Okay, secretary says Wallace is away for the day and won't be coming back into the office."

Michael: "Okay, okay. Um..."

Dwight: "But, do not worry. I have his home address right here."

Michael: "Why?"

Dwight: "Christmas card list."

Michael: "You send him cards? You've never met him!"

Dwight: "But when I do, we'll have something to talk about."

I know the Dwight spin-off rumors turned out to be, in fact, Dwight spin-off falsehoods, and thank God. It's because of scenes like these that neither of them can never, ever leave this show. Also, I wouldn't mind if they did a whole episode of just the two of them driving around in the car, hatching one boneheaded scheme after another and maybe stopping at Hardee's for a nine-pound Monster burger and some curly fries. Get on that, Michael Schur!

But we're heading back to Stamford, where Jim is trying to get the scoop on this whole potential transfer list by bothering Josh. Josh isn't Michael, though, so he's not spilling anything worth anything. Enter Jan, who's here to make plans and talk logistics. Josh stares down at his desk, breaking out into a mental sweat. Why so tense, Josh? What do you have up your sleeve, anyway?

In Scranton, Ryan is wasting no time kicking Kelly to the curb in his totally wiener way: "I just feel like it could have been something special if we could have kept working together, but I'm gonna go someplace else and you're gonna go someplace else. It just doesn't make sense." Now how is that a break-up excuse? He then tells the camera, "This kinda worked out perfectly for me. I got some good experience. Uh, Michael's gonna write me a great recommendation. And as far as me and Kelly goes, I think it's for the best." I love Ryan and all, but I'd pay a lot of money to see somebody hit him in the face.

Out in the office, a stranger hands Creed a stack of bills, then walks off with a printer.

And then on to a well-heeled suburb somewhere in New York. Westchester County? Nobody's saying. Gorgeous house, though, all dressed in pumpkins and leafy wreaths for Halloween. Dwight and Michael bound up the front walk, trench coats flapping in the breeze, like two middle-aged superheroes in businesslike wear. I don't know, it's just a great visual.

Michael: "Okay, this is it. This is exactly what Michael Moore does, famous documenter"¦ian. He goes up to people with a camera and he's like, "˜Why did you do this? Why did you pollute? You are bad. You're a bad person.' It's very dramatic. Although I can't say I was a big fan of Bowling for Columbine, because I thought it was going to be a bowling movie, like Kingpin. And it wasn't. It was something"¦else." To be fair, Michael Moore is holding the earth up like a bowling ball on the cover of the DVD, and Time magazine does say it's "HILARIOUS," but whatever. Dwight knocks on David Wallace's front door. No one answers.

In Stamford, Jan is still meeting with Josh and Jim. They're huge with the J-names on this show, aren't they? In other news, I'm thinking of changing my name to "Jari." Look for it soon at a theater near you! Jan announces that "Josh will be running what is now called Dunder-Mifflin Northeast, which is all the offices north of Stamford. And Jim, if you want the job, you'll be his number two." Jim is understandably wowed, and accepts with nary a second thought. Jan says, "Awesome," which I don't think is really a word Jan would say, but we'll let it slide this time. Because Josh is about to crap over all her best-laid plans.

"Excuse me, Jan," he says. "I'm sorry, I'm gonna have to stop you there. I, um, will not be taking the job." What did I tell you? Dickhead. As of today, he says, he has accepted a senior management position at Staples. Jan smiles and says, "Awesome! Congratulations, Josh! I know this isn't quite what we had in mind, but I totally get why you'd screw us over for Staples, and hope to join you there one day myself! We'll wear matching shirts and staple things." On second thought, no, what she actually says is "Dammit, Josh! This whole restructuring thing was based around keeping you!" He apologizes but says it's done, and she excuses herself to go make some emergency phone calls. Poor, flustered Jan. No wonder she's crazy!

Jim, however, keys right in on the moral of the story: "Say what you will about Michael Scott, but he would never do that." Go Jim, go! We're glad your soul is still playing for the Scranton team.

Back to Well-Heeled Suburbia. Close-up on Michael, who is staring bewitched at the greatness that is David Wallace's house as Dwight appears from beyond to report that all access points have been covered. He asks what the plan is when David Wallace shows up. Michael says, "I will improvise. I will speak from the heart." Dwight suggests using the head instead, which would make sense to anyone but Michael. "You need an attack plan," Dwight tells him "Here, I'll be him, you be you. Let's practice." Michael agrees.

Dwight, as CFO David Wallace, strolling up the sidewalk: "Dum, dum, dum, dum, dum...coming home from work."

Michael: "Excuse me, Mr. Wallace? David Wallace?"

Dwight as David Wallace: "Yes? What is the meaning of this?"

Michael: "Can you tell us why you are shutting down Scranton and putting 15 people out of work?"

Dwight as David Wallace: "Well, the branch is no longer financially viable. It's simple dollars and cents."

Michael: "Yes, but these are employees, sir. These are human beings."

Dwight as David Wallace: "Listen, Scott. It's no longer financially viable, we're losing money, okay? It's not a charity, it's a business. And it's a dying business. Look: the whole business model of a small regional paper company simply doesn't make sense anymore—"

Michael, to Dwight as Dwight: "Stop...stop it! Just, okay. He's not going to say any of that."

Dwight as Dwight: "Why not?"

Michael: "Because he'd be intimidated and I just...let's start again. Just be more scared of me, okay?"

Dwight as Dwight: "Okay."

Michael: "Don't touch me this time."

Dwight as David Wallace, strolling up the sidewalk: "Dum, dum, dum, doo, doo de doo... coming home from work..."

Michael: "Excuse me, Mr. Wallace?"

Dwight as David Wallace, alarmed: "Ah!"

I love how Dwight is always so willing to subjugate his own common sense to Michael's bossy, simpleminded wrongness, just because that's what good toadies do.

In Scranton, Kelly is asking Pam sign to her company directory. While she watches, Pam writes "Kelly, Best wishes. Love, Pam." Which Kelly finds completely not what she was looking for. I'd throw in a "stay sweet!" or "BFF!" or even "keep on keepin' on!" but Pam goes with "P.S. What a long, strange trip it's been." This gets a big laugh from Kelly, who finds it very original.

Over in Stamford, Jan informs Jim that they've made some decisions: Scranton will be absorbing Stamford. Yay! And yay again! Everyone keeps their jobs and Jim can go home now, so I never have to think about Connecticut again. (Oh, not true. I hold no grudges against the Constitution State, although that's a pretty lame motto.) The problem is Jim doesn't know if he wants to go home, not even when Jan offers him the number two position there. He tells her he has some unpleasant memories of Scranton, and Jan immediately assumes he's talking about Michael. She might secretly love him, but that doesn't mean anybody else does. Jim says no, it's personal stuff. She begs without coming right out and begging, but you can tell she's getting desperate, and then she flies off again. She's kind of a superhero today, too. Wonder Woman, in fact; lassos, red go-go boots, and solid gold wristbands would so be her thing.

At home in Scranton, Toby is next up in Meredith's sexual pact identification quest. She tries to play it coy: "Did you ever hear a rumor about me, and anybody, last day of work, something sexual?" Or not so coy, I guess. He says no, and seems glad about it.

At the reception desk, Pam is telling Roy that she's okay with getting laid off. When he asks what she's going to do, she mentions something about art school, and he says she should totally do that. But she's already doing that, Roy! You big handsome lug. He's surprised by this news: happy for her, sad for himself. Look how far she's already gone without him; he just has no idea how to keep up.

Well-Heeled Suburbia. Dwight pokes through David Wallace's trash, and comes to the conclusion that David Wallace is rich based on A) a satellite TV bill, and B) cocaine-concealing coffee grounds. Also: there's a Golden Retriever wandering around in the background, behind an iron gate. Not barking or even caring. David Wallace needs a better, Dwight-sniffing guard dog.

Scranton. Phyllis approaches Kevin and Angela. She's planning a group goodbye lunch "since, you know, we're never gonna see each other again." Hah! Think again, Phyllis. Her eyes and nose are red, so she's taking this hard. Aw, Phyllis is the best. She suggests they go to DJ's, but Kevin  doesn't like DJ's. He wants to go to Cugino's but Angela doesn't want to drive all the way to Dunmore. Then he mentions Cooper's, but Angela says no seafood. People make lunch so hard sometimes, don't they? It's just food, people! You'll eat again in like six hours! But Phyllis gives up and decides she doesn't really want to see any of them ever again anyway; after all, she's got Bob Vance and his big new Vance Refrigeration warehouse. As she walks away, Kevin suggests Hooters. Why Angela even bothers to respond I don't know, but she says no. I wonder what these two would do without each other.

In another corner of the office, a deceptively young-looking stranger with a very deep voice offers Creed $400 for a CPU. Creed snaps up the cash and the guy takes off with his new ill-gotten gains. Today's been a real windfall in Creed terms.

Back to Well-Heeled Suburbia, where Michael and Dwight are sitting on the steps in front of David Wallace's house. Dwight sucks down some Gatorade and hands the bottle to Michael, telling him to replenish his fluids. Michael takes it and carefully wipes off Dwight's fluids with his tie.

Meanwhile, Jan has made it back Scranton in record time. She asks Pam where Michael is, and Pam rightly pleads ignorance. Jan turns to see that work at Dunder-Mifflin Scranton has simply ceased to be: Ryan is mindlessly tossing business cards into a coffee cup, Stanley is still packing up his belongings and Phyllis is just staring off into space. Jan's all, "WTF?" and Phyllis is like, "No duh, Jan, Michael told us we're all fired," only they use slightly modified better-sounding English. Jan allows herself a mini professional meltdown (a mere foreshadowing of what's in store for Jan!), and says, "Okay. You know what everybody? I'm sure there is a better way to do this but I've driven something like 400 miles today and I'm completely exhausted so I'm just gonna tell you. Your branch is not closing; Stamford is closing. Um, for the time being, it seems that all of your jobs are safe." Again: best news ever!

Angela and Kevin both say "Yes!" and they hug, and they're so cute together, this big bear of a man with this little evil Goldilocks.

Phyllis gives Stanley a sweet hug also, but Stanley isn't happy about this new turn of events at all. He'll probably never smile again. In fact, maybe he had only one smile in him, that he's been saving up for his whole entire life, and now he's spent it for nothing. A one-time-only smile completely wasted.

Pam asks Jan, "Is it because of Michael? Did he actually do something?" Clearly her voice knows this is impossible, but I like that she asks the question. Jan says the reasons aren't important, but tells her to call and tell him the good news, which is that she loves him and will continue to boss him around. Or something of that nature. Then Pam does her version of Inscrutable Jim: "Sure. Uh, Jan...um, do you know, is anyone coming back to Scranton?"  Her sphinx-like questioning befuddles Jan, who has no idea and couldn't care less what she's talking about, so Pam tries again: "Coming to Scranton. Is anyone coming to Scranton?" Jan says probably. Pam looks pensive and hopeful and dreamy. It's Jim! She's talking about Jim!

Twilight is approaching Well-Heeled Suburbia. It's that perfect kind of autumn light that just makes me want to fast-forward to October. Anybody else? Michael's cell phone rings: it's Pam! With good news! The best news! Only Michael isn't answering. "Not until I have some good news for them. Not until I have some good news." What a day. He both hates and loves that the weight of the whole world is resting on his shoulders, even if that is not now nor has ever been true. Oh, Michael Scott, if loving you is wrong, I don't ever want to be right.

Act IV.

Stamford. Andy asks Big Tuna whether he'll be transferring to Scranton. Big Tuna remains undecided. Andy mentions, without being asked, that even if he isn't transferred, he'll be fine, because he has all these crazy Cornell contacts to fall back. In fact, he'll probably go back and teach, he says, and just by virtue of him saying it, we know this would never be true.

Scranton. Pam is brewing herself a nice cup of tea in the kitchen while Ryan hides from Kelly. She says, feigning nonchalance, "I guess some new people might be coming from Stamford. Should be fun. New blood." Ryan asks if Jim is coming back, which makes her uncomfortable but shouldn't because of course Ryan only thinks about Ryan: "I just don't want it to be weird, you know? I mean, I took his old job and his old desk." But he gets his when Kelly bursts through the door and attacks him from behind: "I'm so happy we don't have to break up now, Ryan! This is the best day of my whole life!" She kisses him; he smiles, looking only half-miserable.

Cut to his talking head, where he's having trouble looking into the camera: "I don't know. Can't explain it." After a beat he glances up and smiles. Pssst: Which means it's all about sex.

Stamford. Karen asks Jim what he's going to do, then mentions that she'll move to Scranton if she's offered a transfer. For some reason—because he likes her? because he doesn't?—he says, "New York City is 45 minutes down the road from here. And you wanna move to Scranton? I don't know. If I were you I'd move to New York." Her face falls a little; Jim, are you such a dumbbell that you don't even know when a new girl is in love with you? Geez! Get over yourself, as we would say in the early 2000s.

Meanwhile, Andy is in the kitchen throwing things around. No Cornell, huh? I feel bad for him, actually. He's the kind of guy who really doesn't belong anywhere, and on some deep, angry level knows this to be fact. He pulls it together, though, when Josh walks in to wish him luck. Josh probably knows about the craziness already anyway.

In Scranton, Stanley is unpacking all of his belongings and has reverted back to his regular face. He tells the camera it was nice to have those few hours when he thought it was over, and at least now he has something to look forward to. That Stanley tree just keeps on sprouting new leaves.

Meredith, on the way from the kitchen to her desk, says congratulations to Creed, who assumes she's referring to all the earnings he pocketed today. He thanks her and says he made about twelve hundred bucks. Damn! I need to stage one of these fake branch closings in my office, too, although we have some pretty tight security hanging around, probably for that very reason.

At her desk, Meredith picks up the ringing phone. It's some dude who used to work in the warehouse and heard their branch is closing; he's ready to take her up on their deal. Oh, thank God it's a stranger. She starts to tell him the truth about the closing, then stops and asks if he can be at her place in twenty minutes. He says sure! Which is what I'd call a win-win-win.

On to Well-Heeled Suburbia, where Michael and Dwight have retreated to the Sebring. Darkness has fallen. There's a small bag of Funyuns open on the dashboard (that's Fun with Onions in snack-like form!). It looks as though there are lights on in David Wallace's house, but apparently no one is home. Dwight's checking with a pair of binoculars just to be sure, though. The smell of defeat hangs thick in the air, but probably that's overshadowed by the smell of Funyuns.

Michael: "What if this doesn't work? What if the office actually goes under?"

Dwight: "Then it was an honor to have worked with you."

Michael pats him on the shoulder: "All right, favorite moments in Dunder-Mifflin history. Go."

Dwight: "My first day when you hazed me by spraying me with a fire extinguisher."

Michael: "That was hilarious. The foam..."

Dwight: "Um, my first sale, my promotion to assistant regional manager, our basketball game. When you took me to the hospital, and told me that you cared about me."

Michael: "All right. Okay, that's enough. That's good."

Dwight: "What were your favorite moments?"

Michael: "Oh"¦all of them. I loved them all. Every single one."

Dwight: "What about when Jan said the branch was closing?"

Michael: "God, Dwight!"

Dwight: "Well, it doesn't..."

It's Dwight's indefatigable literal-mindedness that is both his greatest strength and his own mortal enemy.

Scranton. Everyone is leaving for the day. Kevin tells Pam they're heading over to Poor Richard's—Creed is buying shots! Now that's the sort of team playing I like to see around here, folks. Phyllis stops to tell Pam she heard Jim is coming back. Pam tries to ask how Phyllis knows this without indicating that she's jumping up and down inside with excitement, but Kevin interrupts when he walks back in to check on Kelly and Ryan, who are huddling at Ryan's desk. Ryan says they'll meet everybody there; sounds like something naughty is happening on the way to Poor Richard's, doesn't it? Phyllis tells Pam they'll talk later, and Pam is left with this massive question mark cliffhanging over her head. Will he or won't he? Will they or won't they? You'll have to get in line on that one, Pam! Millions of other Americans got here first, and we're the ones who have to suffer through the all the Geico commercials and hiatuses and long hot summers waiting for the two of you to get your act together.

Enter Roy, who says he's glad she's still going to be working here. Pam agrees and they bat their eyelashes bashfully for a moment, like Rudolph and Clarice, and then he leaves. Dammit, man. Don't conflict us, Roy! We know what we have to do.

Pam to camera: "I was expecting a severance. Some time off. But, um, maybe this is good! Finding another job is a pain. There's another annoying boss, another desk, I'd have to learn everything all over again. So, there are reasons to stay." In the middle of this, we cut to Jim mulling things over in Stamford. It's fun to watch them lie to themselves so unconvincingly on camera, isn't it? I just can't do it forever.

In Stamford, Jim and Karen are the only two left in the office. Wacky coincidence, no? He stands to leave, then tells her he's probably going to take that job after all. We knew it, but still—good boy, Jim! Only then he goes ahead and says, "And Scranton... it's not that bad. So if they offer you a job there, I think you should take it." What the hell? This isn't what we wanted at all! She smiles at him, all cute and charmed, and says maybe she will. And then she tells the camera, "Yeah, I'm happy he said that. I mean, I don't think he's into me or anything, but, I'm kind of into him. So...there you go." So there we go. Not what we wanted one little bit!

Well-Heeled Suburbia, deep nighttime. Our intrepid heroes/losers sit, dejected, on the curb, just like yesterday's garbage. There's nothing left to say; they've failed. They've lost their jobs, and everybody else's, and it's time to go home. Michael tells Dwight to get the car. Dwight checks his voicemail while he heads across the street, and Michael lies back in the grass and whines: "Oh, this was such a stupid idea! This was so stupid. I am such a stupid idiot. I let everybody down. Everybody hates me. I lost everybody's jobs. Nobody likes me anymore!" True, but does it make you feel any better to know you've always been a stupid idiot and nobody has ever liked you? Maybe, maybe not.

Suddenly, from off camera, we hear Dwight scream "Oh my God! Stamford is closed! Michael, we're not closed. Stamford is closed. Stamford is closed!" Michael stands and they shout "We did it!" to each other about forty thousand times, give or take. They cheer and hug and high five and bump chests and dance, right there in the middle of the street in the middle of Well-Heeled Suburbia, and nobody even calls the cops! Dwight shouts "In your face!" to David Wallace's house, and they just could not find themselves more awesome. Finally they both stop to take a deep breath and let it all sink in, and in the process of sinking, it occurs to Michael to ask "How did we do it?" Dwight shakes his head. "I don't...I have no idea." Michael: "I don't understand."

Makes no difference, though; a superhero's deed is never done, never appreciated, and never understood.

Tag.

Toby, alone in the office, pulls the last coat from the coat rack. He tells the camera, "Well, for a minute there, I saw myself selling my house, moving to Costa Rica, learning how to surf. But, Costa Rica will still be there. When I'm 65." Poor Toby. I think we all know he'll never make it to 65.

The Office: Diwali

Diwali! My new favorite of all the holidays I don't observe for all the religions I don't belong to. (Fact: religions I belong to? Officially none.) Also the episode in which we learn the most about other actual things, only not in an ABC Afterschool Special kind of way (oh dear; am I dating myself?). We know right away this is a special day at the office, since Kelly is buttoning Ryan up to the chin in a long silky gray tunic while Pam watches. He looks both adorable and thoroughly emasculated, but that's mostly due to Kelly's motherly fussing and his own overwhelming weenieness, and not on account of the costume, which is, we soon learn, a kurta ("a traditional item of clothing worn in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. It is a loose shirt falling either just above or somewhere below the knees of the wearer, and is worn by both men and women."). And not, as Michael teases, a dress.

"Tonight," he tells the camera, "one of our most ethnic co-workers, Kelly, has invited us all to a Diwali celebration put on by her community. What is Diwali, you may ask? Well, to have Kelly explain it—" he pitches his voice up to an approximate ear-grating Kelly level "—it's ah dah blah blah blah, it's so super fun and it's going to be great." He shakes himself out of it and returns to his normal voice. "Lot of gods with unpronounceable names. Twenty minutes later you find out that is essentially a Hindu Halloween." Which isn't exactly the case, but Michael likes painting in broad strokes and bright shiny colors.

Kelly ignores the dress crack and tells Ryan he looks so handsome. Pam and I agree: totally hot! The two of them continue to peck away at him like twelve-year-olds playing with the nearest Ken doll. "I love the material," Pam says, which probably isn't the kind of thing Ryan is wanting to hear, either. But Michael is sold: "How come you didn't get me one?" he asks Kelly. Who for once can think of nothing to say.

Act I.

Diwali car pool! Pam, Ryan, Meredith and Angela are seated at the conference table while Phyllis maps out riding assignments on the easel. They'll be heading over to the Diwali celebration tonight in Bob Vance's Yukon and Meredith's minivan. I'd say the smart ones will hitch their wagons to that Yukon. Nice that Kelly invited Darryl and Lonny from the warehouse, though; she's all about sharing. Then Pam mentions, sort of off the cuff, that she might not be going, because she's tired. Meaning she doesn't want to go alone. Meredith asks if she wants to make appletinis and watch Sex and the City at her place instead, which sounds even worse than attending an ethnic celebration with Michael Scott. Pam is now on the horns of a severe dilemma, so she stalls: "Oh, I don't know. I haven't decided yet."

Kelly takes this news personally. "I don't get why you won't go, did I do something wrong? I mean, I thought we were really close friends?" You mean because you asked once if you could be in her wedding? Dwight, standing nearby, suggests that perhaps Pam has mono. Pam actually sounds hopeful when she says maybe, which I have to disagree with just right off the bat. Mono is the fucking worst, especially when you're a grown-up and have to do things like go to work and not fall asleep in Woodman's while you shop for your own cereal. Plus did you know the after-effects can linger for like six months and you're not supposed to drink during that time? Alcohol, I mean. I lost a ton of weight, though, and the boyfriend who kissed someone else and gave it to me, so I guess things evened out in the end.

At any rate. Pam finally admits to Kelly that she doesn't want to go alone. So naturally Kelly zooms in on the nearest available man: Pam should go with Dwight! Dear Lord. Is she so intent on matchmaking that she's willing to hook Pam up with any old bears-and-beets-loving fruitcake? "You're single, right?" she asks him. "Yeah, totally single. Hundred percent available," Dwight says a little too quickly and like a robot. Cut to Angela, who does not like what she just heard. Not one bit. Kelly Kapoor, you'd better watch your back.

Later. Stanley, Kevin, Roy, and Angela are breaking in the break room. Kevin asks if they're going to "this Indian thing" tonight. Pan to Roy, who says, "I don't know, who's going?" while trying to act all cool and nonchalant. Nice try, Roy! Kevin turns on the tease: "Oh, you mean like, is Pam going?" Kevin mentally got held back in the fifth grade. Angela tells them not to go; "They eat monkey brains," she says, which is, according to Mindy Kaling, a stereotypical falsehood perpetuated by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Michael, who's buying a beverage at the vending machine, agrees that this is not right. Kind of. "Hey. Hey. Stop that. That is offensive. Indians do not eat monkey brains. And if they do... sign me up! Because I am sure that they are very tasty and nutritional." And then he decides it's time to teach us a lesson in tolerance, because the camera is watching. "It's important that this company celebrates its diversity. And you know what, Stanley? Come Kwanzaa time, I have got you covered, baby." But Stanley doesn't celebrate Kwanzaa. Michael can hardly believe what he's hearing: "Wha— Really? You should! It's fun!" I love him so much in this episode, because he tries so hard and fails so badly, every single time he opens his mouth.

Talking head in his office: "I love the people here. And if there is one thing I don't really care for is that they can be terribly, terribly ignorant about other cultures. And I don't want them embarrassing me in front of my girlfriend, Carol." See? Now that's not something I would worry about if I were you. I mean, he's heading towards the general area of the right concept here, but placing the burden on all the wrong people.

Nor is he finished with tolerance training: he has lots more wisdom to impart, so he gathers everyone in the conference room. (Sidenote: how do they get that table out of here so quickly, and where do they stash it? Sidenote to self: you're watching television.) "Diwali is a very important holiday for the Hindus," he announces. "But, frankly, I'm a little appalled that none of you know very much about Indian culture. So, without further ado,  Kelly! You are on."

I mean, Kelly's always on and everything, but she wasn't expecting to be "on" on. She shoots the camera a deer in the headlights look, then stands and does her best to rise to the occasion. "Um...Diwali is awesome. And there's food, and there's gonna be dancing, and— Oh! I got the raddest outfit. It has, um, sparkles—"

Michael interrupts her. "Um, why don't you tell us a little bit about the origins of the holiday." Fair enough, but she shakes her head. Nobody cares about that stuff. She was talking sparkles! "Oh, um, I don't know. It's really old, I think." Angela asks how many gods they have. Kelly says it's like hundreds, maybe more, but she's not sure. Then Angela points to an illustration that someone—Michael—has taped to the wall. "And that blue busty gal? What's her story?" Oh, Angela, you prickly pear. Kevin says it looks like Pam from the neck down. Dwight says "Pam wishes," and Pam shoots the camera a WTF?! while the men all giggle like the dickheads they are. Funny how those boob jokes just never get old.

Dwight steps up to center stage; he tells Kelly he'll field this one. "Diwali is a Celebration of the Coronation of the God-King Rama. After his epic battle with Ravana, the Demon King of Lanka. It symbolizes the battle between good and evil..." The best part is he's right about all of this, but Michael cuts him off. "All right, all right, all right, all right. This isn't Lord of the Rings."

Ooh! Time to visit Jim in Stamford—and we're lucky, because this happens to be the one Stamford episode I love, mostly because John Krasinski just rocks through the whole thing. First we see him wheeling his bike clumsily through the office door, dressed in his usual nondescript officewear and tie. And then we see, from his talking head, that he's also worked up quite a pits-and-collar-stained lather: "I started biking to work. Josh does it, and he lives a lot farther away than I do." Cut to a quick clip of Josh, all granite jaw and buzzcut, rolling in with his bike, wearing one of those too-matchy biker nerd costumes complete with tight spandex shorts and fingerless gloves. He hasn't broken a sweat, and clearly knows how to handle his ride. Asshole. Back to Jim: "And also it saves gas money, keeps me in shape, helps the environment. And now I know it makes me really sweaty for work." He sits at his desk, probably smelling very manly. "Nice basket," Karen says, ostensibly referring to the bike, but we all know what she's really thinking.

Back in Scranton, the lights in the conference room have been dimmed for Michael's slide show, subtitled Five Indian People Who Are Famous (Who He Knows Of). He starts by mentioning that Kelly is both one in a million and not, which seems to hit Kelly hard. She wants to be one! He continues: "Because, frankly, there are literally billions of people just like Kelly in the world. Here are some famous Indians." Cue slideshow: "Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. He is a Nobel prize-winning physicist. Impressive." What's really impressive is him pronouncing both "Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar" and "physicist." Next: Apu from The Simpsons. "Hilarious! Indian." Kevin smiles in agreement; he and Michael have very similar tastes in entertainment and female anatomy. Michael: "M. Night Shyamalan. The Village, Unbreakable, Sixth Sense, Si—"

Dwight turns to the camera, as of course he must: "I see dead people." This concerns Michael, who finds it necessary to tag that with "Spoiler alert." Which might be smart; people really do get pissy about that stuff, even if they're living ten years behind the curve. Except this isn't actually a spoiler, but rather the tagline used to market the film to audiences worldwide. ("He was dead the whole time," says Dwight, which is technically a spoiler. Alert!)

Michael flips to the next slide: it's a close-up shot of him kissing his "girlfriend" Carol as awkwardly as humanly possible. Both of them have their eyes open, and she's glaring at the camera, so what I'm going to assume is that he just planted one on her in the middle of a sentence and  then snapped a self-portrait, probably hoping she wouldn't notice. He laughs to the crowd and says, "Oh, wow, where did that come from?" He pauses just long enough to make sure the cameras get a good look.

Up in Stamford, a large man named Tony is telling Karen his chips got stuck in the vending machine again. Is this a euphemism for something sinister? No, he just needs her "skinny little arms" to rescue his snack food. She asks if he shook it; he says yes, "I shook it, I shook it." I guess all of that could've been a euphemism.

Andy watches them go, then turns to Jim and says he and Karen have such a roller coaster thing going on. Jim is understandably perplexed. "Roller coastery friendship," Andy says. "Hot and cold, on again off again, sexual tension-filled type of deal." That's funny; I don't think we've even seen them speak to each other yet. But we'll honor him with one pity shrug. As does Jim when Andy says, "It's very 'Sam and Diane." You know, from Cheers."

In Scranton, Michael has launched into the sexual tension-filled portion of his presentation. "And another thing about the Indian people"¦they love sex positions. I present to you the Kama Sutra." He has passed out full-color bound copies to everyone, with the naughty bits pixelated for innocent American eyes. "I mean look at that. Who's seen that before?" Creed: "I have. That's the 'Union of the Monkey.'" Meredith is relieved to know this particular position actually has a name, and Kevin says, "This is the best meeting we've ever had." Are you kidding? This might be the best meeting anyone's ever had, in the whole history of meetings. Michael thanks him.

Angela, however? Not so sure. "You know, I find this incredibly offensive," she says. Michael thinks it's beautiful. Angela: "Well, whatever Kelly wants to do in her own house is fine, but we shouldn't all be subjected to it." The camera cuts to Kelly, who is now representing the billions of her people, for right or wrong. Toby, who is quite frankly a little slow on the uptake today, says, "Actually, she's right. This isn't appropriate. Why don't I take these." Michael says no; Toby says yes. Michael says, "This is delightful, charming culture." And I think we can all be grateful Michael Scott didn't want to be an elementary school teacher when he grew up.

His talking head: "My Indian Culture Seminar was going great until Toby decided that he was too immature to deal with culturally explicit images. It's just sex. People...everybody does it. I'm doing it...with Carol! Probably tonight." Yeah, but probably not. Really almost definitely not.

Back to Stamford, where it's the end of the day. Most workers, including Josh, are leaving; he's wearing his little bike shorts again. Karen, Jim, and Andy are still at their desks. On his way out, Josh hands Karen the corporate card for dinner and tells her to keep it to 20 bucks a person this time. Jim tells the camera that "Once a quarter, the sales staff at this branch has to stay late to do order form consolidation...which, amazingly, is even less interesting than it sounds." Not when Andy's packing a bottle of hard liquor in his desk drawer! He turns and asks Jim if he and Karen are READY TO PARTY!! Man, I can't even believe how much I like Andy the second time around.

Diwali time! Yay! I know some people get all nervous and proprietary when we leave the confines of the office, but I love seeing these characters interact with other people; it only reinforces both their innate normalcy and complete fucking lunacy, which is like every real person I know. None of them gets all glammed up like those sitcom moms who go from frumpy to glossy with a third season pick-up (Patricia Heaton, I'm looking at you). Those who are carpooling haven't even changed their clothes, which is the kind of touch obsessives like me really appreciate, because it both reinforces and feeds the obsession.

Anyway. We see the hallway of what we'll presume is a high school, where people are removing and stacking their shoes. Angela, Phyllis, Meredith, and Kevin walk into the gymnasium; Angela is the only one not wearing a lei. (Is this considered a lei? I have no idea. "Flowerful garland," perhaps.) Phyllis says it's fun not wearing shoes! I don't know; I'm not that wild about being exposed to other people's feet, but then I live in New York City, where there's not much of a choice. Feet everywhere. Angela concurs with her own patented brand of haughty disdain: "I wish some of us still had our shoes on." Kevin says, "Stop it. It's a disease! I told you." I think Angela leaves home every morning just determined to loathe everything and everyone who crosses her path. I know lots of people like that, too.

The gym is decorated brightly, with strings of twinkle lights and vivid oranges and pinks. I'm such a sucker for this color scheme. Michael arrives with Carol; he's wearing his other head and she's dressed as a cheerleader. Hindu Halloween, remember? Carol is horrified. "I thought you said this was a costume party!" He looks around and points at a woman standing nearby: "What does that look like to you?" She says it looks like a woman wearing a sari, which it is. He tells her no one will even notice, as he slyly rips his own head off his shoulder. Kevin saunters past and says, "Nice outfit!" Michael tells him it's a costume and he should cool it. Carol tries to walk away, but he's hot on her trail. Or something. I hate to say it, but doesn't she kind of deserve this for not doing some detailed fact checking when he invites her to a party, or just for being dumb enough to date him more than once?

Act II.

Yum: Diwali buffet. Ugh: there's nothing grosser than a buffet, regardless of the ethnicity of the food. You'll agree with this if you've ever worked in a restaurant, or eaten at a buffet. Michael and Carol are making their way down the line, plates loaded. He's pointing out various exotic foods to her as he goes, like limes and onions. Angela steps up and tells the young server person she's a vegetarian: what can she eat? And she either thinks he's not speaking English or doesn't believe him when he tells her it's all vegetarian. "I'll just have some bread," she says, determined to hate that, too. He places a piece of naan on her plate and she grimaces: "You used your hands."

Cut to Michael and Carol eating at a table with various random Indians. He takes a bite of something and immediately spits it back out onto his plate. "Oh, yuck." She asks him if it's too spicy. We can see now that she's wearing five cute little butterfly clips in her hair that match her cheerleading outfit; Carol likes details, too! He says, no, these are horrible s'mores. "They're not s'mores," she tells him. "They're samosas." He considers this for a moment, then asks, "Do you think they have any s'mores?" Always hopeful! Always wrong. Carol, honestly, run for your life. Leave him to crazy Jan, who's crazy anyway.

His talking head: "All they are is chocolate, graham cracker, and marshmallow. How difficult would that have been?"

Next we see three young girls talking to Ryan: Kelly's sisters. They're teasing him in Indian—something comparing him, perhaps not favorably, to Zach Braff, although that possibly depends on your opinion of Zach Braff—and laughing at him in a tween way. Kelly, all sparkly and jeweled and bedazzled, busts in to break it up: "Rupa, Nipa, Tiffany, stop acting like such little losers and just be cool. Come on, Ryan. Come on. Leave him alone. I hate you guys." Tiffany? I can't even believe how good Mindy Kaling is; she's my new favorite writer/actress.

Out in the hallway, Pam is getting her hand stamped for admission. She went home and changed her clothes, which means she wisely chose to not carpool. Again, though: still Pam, and decidedly not glam, although she's wearing her hair down. She tells the camera: "I decided to come. I feel a little under-dressed...but at least I'm not dressed like a slutty cheerleader, right? Is that mean?" Hee! Only a little.

Cue the mandatory Bollywood dance sequence, which is awesome, even as Michael and Carol watch from the sidelines. I love dance sequences! Even awesomer: Dwight strolls in alone, dressed in his very own kurta and matching flowerful garland. Yes, he would so be that guy. He wanders innocently in Angela's direction, without seeing her, then bristles and heads in the opposite direction when they make eye contact. They're supposed to be allergic to each other in public! And then Dwight quickly kills all our previous goodwill thoughts by grabbing Ryan from behind and shouting "Temp! Temp!" while mock kicking him in the gut. Well played, Dwight.

Meanwhile, Michael has joined the dance-along, and let me say that there are few things better in this world than Steve Carell dancing. Carol is still watching from the sidelines, growing ever more concerned, but she's probably a little touched by his childlike enthusiasm, too. I just don't understand how you couldn't be. The thing about Michael Scott is that he makes no small efforts; when he's in, he's all in, and he's excited most about those things he doesn't understand, which of course is just about everything.

Kelly is off in another part of the gym arguing with her parents about Ryan. (These are Mindy Kaling's real-life parents, by the way, which is smart, because there's nobody easier to argue with convincingly about boys than your own parents.) "I don't even want to hear it. Okay? I didn't come to this Diwali to get yelled at!" Her mom tells her to stop it. "Ryan is a temporary worker, makes no money. Vali (thanks Kamala!) is a whole doctor. So handsome." You said it, Mom! "He's a perfect match." But Kelly loves The Temp.

Back to Stamford, where they seem to have ordered in grocery store sushi. Nice. They're also getting plastered, one shot at a time. Andy asks Big Tuna if he's ready, then counts to three: he, Jim and Karen all hold up their shot glasses for the camera. He and Jim drink, while Karen dumps hers into the trash can. She plays along, though, when Jim turns to her and says "Holy mother of God" (Andy: "Ooh, that burns!"). Smart girl. Karen knows how to run with the big dogs, all right.

At Diwali, Pam is dancing to Beyonce with Vali—who is the very same doctor Kelly's mom wanted for Kelly—when Roy appears in the doorway. Looking cuter than we've ever seen him, and he's always been cute. He scans the room for Pam and sees her dancing with a stranger, then realizes he doesn't belong here. She's not his girl anymore. He turns to leave, and if your heart doesn't stop for him, I don't even know what to tell you. With every step forward he's taking another step back.

Carol is on the floor dancing now, and smiling, which I'll give her a lot of credit for: she's accepted that this is her evening. Michael is sitting, talking to Kelly's parents. Big huge enormous mistake for all parties involved.

Michael: "Wow, thirty years? And you two only met once before the wedding night?"
Kelly's dad: "Yes."
Michael: "Wow."
Kelly's dad: "How long have you been married to the cheerleader?"
Michael: "Oh! She's not a cheerleader. She thought this was a costume party! Um. No, we're not married...yet!"

I like how he always makes sure to leave out the details that might reflect badly on him, although he's probably already forgotten them. Kelly's mom tells him Carol is "very fair." He looks at Carol and smiles sweetly. "She is very fair. Very fair and very kind." He turns back to Kelly's dad. "So, um, tell me, is your marriage the kind of thing where when you die she has to throw herself on a fire?" Kelly's mom shakes her head, thinking "Who is this fucking moron?" Michael says, "No? Okay, well. It's still very cool. Ok. Thanks!" Self-immolation! Cool! Carol dances up to him and leads him away by the hand. Kelly's mom is now even more concerned about Kelly's idiot boss than she is about Kelly's temporary boyfriend.

Stamford: still shooting.

Scranton: Michael is dancing with Carol while keeping his eyes on Kelly's parents. Formulating a bad, bad, horrible half-baked plan in his mind. Like the bad plan to end all bad plans. And he's got such a dumb look on his face that finally Carol asks him if he's okay. "I'm gonna be," he tells her, and he walks right off the dance floor, heading for the deejay booth. Bad plan fully half baked!

He grabs the deejay's microphone, while we at home all scream Don't do it, Michael! and try to avert our eyes. He calls everyone to attention. "Hi. Sorry. I just have an announcement to make. Um...okay. I have learned a lot about Indian culture tonight. But I have learned even more about love. And I know you're all thinking 'who is this crazy gringo and what is he talking about?' Well, I'm not crazy. Maybe I'm crazy in love." Quick cut to Carol, who has maybe an inkling but no real solid idea of who she's dealing with here, and exactly what he's capable of when he starts to improvise in front of a crowd. Which is maybe even worse than when he's just improvising in front of a camera.

"So, without further ado"¦Carol? Carol Stills?" She looks beseechingly at Ryan, hoping that what's coming isn't really going to come. But oh, it is, even as we scream louder, DON'T DO IT MICHAEL!! He does it: "I would like you to do me the honor of making me your husband."

The audience, clearly not understanding who they're rooting for, lets out a collective "Awww!" while Carol, looking sad, says, "Oh, Michael." I think she's sad for both of them. "What do you say?" he asks hopefully. "Can we talk about this in private?" she asks. Her voice has gone very small; she doesn't want to embarrass him. Because he'll do that just fine on his own. "I didn't hear you," he laughs. She repeats it, louder. And his face falls; he realizes what he's hearing and the air goes flat around him, and the hope, all his ill-conceived, fantasy-based cinematic notions of big moments and grand gestures and great romance. "Oh, you gotta be kidding me," he whispers as he lowers the microphone and drops it to the floor, and my heart along with it. Just, Jesus, that was painful.

Act III.

Michael is following Carol out to her car. "You know, I get it," he tells her. "I get it, you're not ready. We'll wait." Aw. Still hopeful: god bless the boomerang that is his heart. She reminds him this is only their ninth date, which, according to the timeline established in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, means only eleven dates to go till they can sleep together. Woo hoo! He tells her he feels like he's known her for many lifetimes. "Maybe I'm Hindu after all." She isn't finding this amusing. "Okay, I'm not Hindu," he says. "But"¦Carol, Carol. I just, I feel like, I just like you so much." Oh my God. I've watched this episode at least 14 times and I'm still getting teary when I watch this scene. How many Emmys can we give him this year, anyway? Because in my mind he's earned six at a minimum. I've just so seldom seen anyone who inhabits and understands their character so clearly on so many different levels—particularly a character this contradictory and complicated. He hits every nuance in every scene—the comedy and the drama—and makes it all look effortless.

Oops: and this scene isn't even over yet! She tells him, not unkindly, that she'd better go, and he'll have to find another ride home. But he still isn't quite ready to give up: "Hey, you know what? Why don't I come with you. 'Cuz I've got this book called the Kama Sutra." Always rolling with the punches, turning on a dime, never saying die. She says good night and leaves him to wander by his lonesome back to the party.

Inside, Ryan is being interrogated by Kelly's parents, who are obviously trying to find at least one redeeming quality about him. Which isn't so easy, because he's both immature and shallow. When he tells them he's been promoted to full-time, Mom assumes that means he's saving money. He says yes; only it's not, as she hopes, to start a family and buy a home, it's to travel. "And, um, buy an Xbox." Kelly's parents look confused, and disappointed. But her father gives it one more go: "Is there anything you wanted to ask us tonight?" Ryan's face: nope! Not a thing!

Elsewhere in the gym, Pam is asking Doctor Vali if he can believe her boss proposed to his girlfriend in public. Implying, obviously, oh so lame! But Vali thinks it's righteous: "He's really outgoing, huh?" Pam makes up an excuse, and a hasty getaway. Doctor Vali's nuts!

She walks out into the hallway, typing away at her phone. Angela's standing out there, still gnawing on her naan. Pam says she should come dance with them, and have some fun, but Angela's busy making sure their shoes don't get stolen. She asks Pam who she was texting, and Pam says no one.

It's not no one, though, it's Jim! I love how great their need is to share moments with each other—it's like something isn't really happening unless they can laugh about it together. Too bad Jim is passed out at his desk—on his keyboard—when his phone starts to vibrate. Get a fucking audible alert, Jim! We need to get in touch with you! Andy, who we can't see because he's lying on the floor, starts to sing "Closer to Fine." Absolutely he would be a huge Indigo Girls fan, because together they're all about harmony. We get a quick shot of his legs as he sings, and Karen says, "Andy, no a cappella." He's quiet for half a beat, then starts up again. Jim raises his head and joins in, all drunk and mumbly. ""¦there's more than one answer to these questions / pointing me in a crooked line / and the less I seek my source / the closer I am to fine / the closer I am to fine." Karen's not happy with this course of dorkly events; Andy could not be more thrilled. "TUNA!" he shouts. "Are you kidding me?!" He just cannot believe how much Jim suddenly rocks.

Back to Scranton, where Michael is sitting alone on the steps outside the school, struggling to choke down yet another plate full of food that does not ethnically agree with his palate. Pam walks up from behind and hands him a glass of something as he starts to cough: "Wow! That's so spicy!" he says. She checks her phone; still no answer from her one true love. Michael asks if she's waiting for a call. She says no, and sits beside him. Good; they're so good together, just so lightly in step, you know? The way they converse and the way she handles him.

He downs her whole drink and turns to her. "Pam. When Carol said 'no' tonight, I think I finally realized how you must be feeling. We are both the victims of broken engagements." Yeah, but not really. Pam points out that he was never actually engaged, and he says, "I was in that marriage arena, though." If you mean that marriage arena that consists of being human and breathing, then yes, I suppose you were. Pam nods, just to get him to move on. Then, quietly, she says, "I kind of thought something would happen tonight too." Funny how he's the one both she and Jim let their guard down around, and confess to. "We're so alike," he says. "So alike."

And then, while she lets her thoughts drift back to Jim, Michael decides—as if things couldn't possibly be bad enough already—that this might be just the right time, cinematically speaking, to lean in and kiss her. Because in the romantic comedy that is his imaginary life, the hero must get the girl before the credits roll; which girl that might be doesn't matter in the least. He's just lucky Angela didn't stumble out here instead. Not that Pam takes it very well, either. She turns to see him just as his face is coming in for the kill, and says "What are you doing?" His eyes pop open: "What are you doing?" Good thinking; throw her off balance with your circular logic! To no avail. They talk over each other for a moment. Pam: "I'm rejecting your..." Michael: "I'm, I'm...what?" Pam: "...kiss." Michael: "I didn't"¦" He tries to laugh it all away and fails miserably. He can't believe what a lousy night this turned out to be, but still he manages to ask her if he can have a ride home. That's my good boy! She looks freaked out, and wary. "If you sit in the back," she says. Luckily she's fully aware of who actually holds all the power in this relationship.

Stamford: Jim, Karen and Andy are packing it in for the night. Jim asks Andy if he can have a ride home; he rode his bike to work today. Poor planning, Jim! Andy can't help; he bought himself an inflatable bed for nights like this. "You're welcome to share it, though; it's a roomy twin." Ew. Who wants to get that close to Andy? Not Jim, that's for sure. He wheels his bike clumsily back out. You can see the lights of the harbor through the windows as he goes, which is also a nice touch.

Outside, he climbs unsteadily onto his bike and tries—and fails—to pedal in a straight line down a straight sidewalk. He ends up falling to the ground beside some bushes. Oh, Jim. Will your cuteness never cease? He picks himself up and drunkenly contemplates his next move. Lucky for him Karen is pulling up to the street at just this precise moment, and she's driving an enormous SUV. Oh, the magical/evil coincidences that are conspiring to bring them together! It's okay; I'll buy it, because she rolls down the window and says, "Dummy! Get in the car." He says he's a drunk driver, and she agrees. She takes the bike and he says, "You can really hold your liquor, Billabelli." See? Also cute. He opens the backseat door and crawls in. She tosses his bag in after him and tells him not to puke on anything.

Cut to Pam driving Michael home. He is indeed sitting in the back, but he's positioned himself in the center, with his head sticking up between the seats (neat how his storylines still sometimes parallel Jim's, isn't it?). Neither of them speaks, and then he looks down at the floor. "These are not my shoes," he says simply, and he sighs. Really, this might be #2 of my favorite episodes from the whole season ("Back from Vacation" being #1, and "Business School" #3). Pam says nothing. He leans forward and stares at himself in the rearview mirror: "This is just like that show, Taxicab Confessions," he says, smiling. But Pam has obviously seen that show, and she's already had more than enough for one night: "If you say one more word, I'm stopping the car." He says "Sorry" and sits back.

Tag.

A Steve Carell/Rainn Wilson duet (lyrics kindly transcribed by officequotes.us, because the Youtube clip has been removed):

This is going out to Indians everywhere. It's a tribute to one of the greats...Mr. Adam Sandler. [sings] Diwali is a festival of lights. Let me tell you something. Tonight has been one crazy night. So put on your saris, it's time to celebrate Diwali. Everybody looks so jolly. But it's not Christmas, it's Diwali. The goddess of destruction Kali stopped by to celebrate Diwali. Don't invite any zombies to a celebration of Diwali. Along came Polly to have some fun at Diwali. If you're Indian and you love to party, have a happy, happy, happy, happy Diwali. Happy Diwali!