The Office: Grief Counseling

Teaser.

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

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

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

Act I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, I absolutely concur.

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

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

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

Act II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tag.

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

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

The Office: The Coup

Teaser.

Extreme radiation close-up of a lone popcorn bag spinning in a microwave oven. Pam and Michael stand guard, watching. He's fidgety and anxious; she's bored. Finally he turns to the camera and mock-whispers, "I'm hungry!" then smiles nonsensically at her. She's both bored and unmoved.

Cut to Michael's office, where he's breaking into his own safe. It's Movie Monday! he announces as he cracks the door open. His cure for the Monday blues? Varsity Blues! "In small-town Texas, high school football is a religion." Really? How novel! And so's this: "In the small town of West Canaan, Texas, football is a way of life, and losing is not an option." That's funny; I grew up in the small town of Portage, Wisconsin, where losing was always an option, and a way of life. So already I can't really relate. (Also in that cabinet behind his desk: a stack of clothes, two major award plaques, a tube of deodorant, Pepto-Bismol, a shot glass, a book, and a can of Pringles. On the inside of the door hangs a mirror—to keep an eye on the cuteness!—and what appears to be an official Dunder-Mifflin headshot of Jan. He's such a good fake boyfriend.) Wise to keep those DVDs safe: in my office, workers will steal anything.

These office workers are gathering in the conference room. The chairs are arranged in rows, with Ryan, Michael and Kevin in front. Michael's yelling for everybody to hurry up, and Dwight is stationed at the door, assigning seats as they file slowly in. Stanley's armed with his crossword puzzle. Pam enters last, carrying an enormous tray loaded with microwaved popcorn bags. Michael's the only taker (which he does in a voice of such childish utter dependence that even I'm icked out), so she drops into a side chair to watch the film with a full tray of popcorn in her lap.

"Movie Monday started with training videos," she tells the camera. "But we went through those pretty fast. Then we watched a medical video." Long pause, from which we'll infer that the content was of an explicitly sexual nature. "Since then, it's been half-hour installments of various movies—" The camera cuts back to the conference room, where Michael is trying to forcefeed popcorn to Ryan straight from the bag. B.J. Novak is clearly laughing here.

Pam continues: "—with the exception of an episode of Entourage which Michael made us watch six times." Which I can understand; Entourage is a really good show. And while I'm sure Michael identifies with Vince, we all know he is Johnny Drama without the finesse and cheekbones. Cut to Michael in his office, saying "Entourage" to the camera with one of those dumbass manly hand gestures that men always insist on using when they say "Leave the gun, take the cannolis," or "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." Don't ask me; it's stamped in the genetic code or something.

Act I.

Still Movie Monday. Michael asks Kevin to recap the cinematic events of last week, and Kevin eagerly agrees. Finally somebody calls on Kevin! I love it when losers start to win. "Why him?" says Dwight, who never seems to win. Michael tells him not to whine; he should get the windows instead. Dwight's all, Window duty sucks, but he knows how to suck it up and carry out an order. So while Kevin brings us up to speed on Billy Bob's head injury, Dwight pulls the blinds closed just as Jan makes her way across the parking lot.

Jan! She enters a deserted office and shoots a disapproving glare at the camera. Uh oh; somebody's not in the mood for an R-rated noontime flick (strong language, sexuality, nudity, and some substance abuse) starring Angelina's quasi-father figure and that kid from the Crick.

Dwight's talking head: "Not everyone approves of Movie Monday. I won't say who." Which can only mean it's either him or"¦cut to Angela, who tells the camera, "I don't approve. I don't!" She would if they were showing Hope Floats, I'll bet. But right now she's busy ratting everybody out to Jan by pointing to the conference room.

Michael is shoveling popcorn into his mouth when Jan opens the door. He gives her a bright smile: "Hi Jan! Hope you brought some Milk Duds!" Fully expecting she'll just pull up a chair and roll with the punches; maybe they can make out in the back. Oh, Michael, it's like you've never even met your imaginary girlfriend! I'd say out of all the not happy with him she's ever been, this might be the not happiest. But I'm going out on quite a limb there.

Cut to the two of them in his office. Guess who's doing the hollering and who's looking both cowed and sheepish?

Jan: "How would a movie increase productivity Michael? How on earth would it do that?"
Michael: "People work faster after..."
Jan: "Magically?"
Michael: "No, they have to. To make up for the time they lost watching the movie."
Jan: "No."

I don't know; somehow I get the feeling it's not the movie she's mad about, it's the fact that she's in love with a moron and can't do anything about it. She's also pretty mad about the movie, though.

Dwight is hard at work at his desk when Angela strides past. "Kitchen," she harshes, without breaking her stride. We can still hear Jan yelling in Michael's office, something about hiring a 14-year-old girl to babysit him. Hee! They'd probably just end up taking off their shoes and lying on their stomachs on the floor to play "Fashion Plates" while they dish about Ryan.

In the kitchen, Angela tells Dwight that Michael's going to get them all fired. Is that news to anybody? Dwight does his Eagle Scout best to defend his master: it's not Michael's fault! And we see his talking head: "Ever since Michael dumped Jan for Carol, Jan's been bitching out on him. Reject a woman and she will never let it go. One of the many defects of their kind. Also weak arms." I'd like to bitch out and slap him right across his chipmunk cheek for that, but I can't lift my fucking arm.

And then Lady Macbeth lays out the scenario for today's bloody scheme: "Dwight! You should be running this office." Interesting, isn't it? Unlike Jan, Angela has the utmost faith in her man: she truly believes he's capable of anything. When actually he's capable of not much at all, at least not without explicit direction from either her or Michael, or some uniformed authority with a badge and/or crossbow. He's got perhaps a smidge more common sense than Michael, but he's got less than zero people skills, and unfortunately people are who he'd be managing. He's also too attached to the formality of rules and hierarchies to be an improviser, you know? And sometimes managers have to think on their feet, even if their feet always end up in their mouths. At any rate. He's intrigued enough by Angela's suggestion to almost turn around and look at her, but all he can actually do is whisper, "Michael would never let me." This is not a man who should be king.

Angela tells him it's up to Jan, not Michael: he should talk to Jan! Dwight says he could never betray Michael (that's a good boy) and Angela huffs, "Fine! Sit back and do nothing and let us all get fired!" She then tells the camera that Dwight needs to grow a pair. I love Angela; she's such a scrappy little rat terrier.

Ooh, pretty harbor view! Jim's in Stamford, remember, and it looks like his scenery got a big promotion, too, as their building overlooks a sunny blue marina. But of course Pam's not there, so we'd better not like it too much. The only place they should be is together. Loyalty first! But right now he's busy talking to the camera: the Stamford branch is spending part of its Movie Monday on a team building exercise that is actually a WWII video game called "Call of Duty." Only it's less of a team building exercise than a way to waste time at work. Which would be fine, probably, if Jim were the kind of guy who played video games. But he is a lover, not a fighter. "We didn't play many video games in Scranton," he says. "Instead we'd do stuff like, Pam and I would sometimes hum the same high-pitched note, and try to get Dwight to make an appointment with an ear doctor. And Pam called it...'pretendinnitus.'"

Back to Scranton, where Pam is multitasking: signing for a package while telling Kelly over the phone that she's signing for a package. Holy meta! She has to yank the phone away from her ear when Kelly starts to shriek. Nobody has to bother with pretendinnitus when Kelly's around. In a talking head, Pam explains that she ordered a bunch of new clothes online, because she felt like she needed a bunch of new clothes. She spends a few awkward minutes trying to justify this to the camera without actually coming right out and saying what we all know: she's trying to remake a life from the outside in. A not-uncommon practice for the Suddenly Single Woman, only that's not the sort of thing a Suddenly Single Woman wants to acknowledge out loud to anybody, much less an omnipresent camera crew, and much, much less the pack of nutbars she calls coworkers. Nobody likes being watched while they try to make fundamental changes to the core of their person; they just want to be changed.

Next we see her at Kelly's desk, pulling a magenta blouse from her box of online shopping. Low-cut v-neck with short sleeves, a ruffled collar and empire waist. Kelly LOVES it, because it looks exactly like something Kelly would wear, but Pam—who is accustomed to hiding in plain sight in her standard uniform of striped button-down and librarian skirt—isn't so sure. Kelly cheers her on: "Fashion show! Fashion show! Fashion show at lunch!" I'm not sure it's possible to be more of a girl than Kelly, which is why I love Kelly.

Stamford. Nobody can see the pretty harbor view today because all the blinds are closed. They're still playing games. Jim shoots at somebody and Andy turns around to ask him what the frak he's doing! Because apparently Jim just shot at Andy, who is his partner on the German team. Maybe the reason Jim doesn't play a lot of videogames is because who wants to be on the German team? Nobody. So he's understandably perplexed, and turns to ask Karen if they're really playing teams. She laughs at him, not unkindly. Uh oh. Cute girls can't resist cute boys whose asses they can kick in "Call of Duty"!

Meanwhile, Dwight is in the parking lot trying to grow a pair by giving himself a one-on-one pep talk. He's in quite a quandary here, both mentally and emotionally: is it conceivable that he could turn on his de facto master/mentor, even if his girlfriend told him to? If only he had his boom box and air guitar to guide the way. He paces the concrete, breathing heavily, then turns and breaks into a sprint. He stops when he reaches a puddle. He turns again, clutches his head in his hands, tips his head back to the sky. Conflicted! Macbeth, meet Hamlet. Or Anakin Skywalker.

At last. This dark intervention of the soul is followed by a duplicitous phone call to Jan, who should definitely share more screen time with Dwight.

Jan: "Hello?"
Dwight: "Is this Jan?"
Jan: "Who is this?'
Dwight: "This is Dwight Schrute. I am calling about an extremely sensitive matter."
Jan: "You should talk to Michael, and he'll talk to me, and that way we don't have to speak to each other."
Dwight: "It's about Michael."
Jan: "What about him?"
Dwight: "I can't talk here. It's too sensitive."
Jan: "It's not about a surprise party is it?"
Dwight: "No, but we should discuss that another time."
Jan: "Look, I'm already an hour outside of Scranton, Dwight, I'm not coming back."
Dwight: "Pull over at Exit 40. There is a Liz Claiborne outlet. I know you like that store. Go inside and shop until I can meet you."
Jan: "How do you know I like that store?"
Dwight: "Many of your blouses are Claiborne's."
Jan: "How do you know that?"
Dwight: "Part of my job."
Jan: "No it's not. It's officially not."
Dwight: "Noted."

I like how they thrust and parry conversationally, that's all.

Um, next we cut to Michael, who is humming to himself in his office, something grand and sufficiently tuneful. He endlessly amuses me. Dwight appears in the doorway to announce he is going to the dentist. Michael says okay, only Dwight's not finished lying: he has to have an emergency crown put in. Michael says "Ouchie!" but still isn't caring, or really listening. Dwight tells him it's a new dentist: "He's far, I might be gone"¦three hours." It's like he's begging to get caught. But Michael's brain is busy riding the teacups at Disneyworld, so he just says, "Three hours, wow! Have fun!" Dwight peeks nervously through the window as he slinks away.

Act II.

Parking lot, Liz Claiborne. Dwight follows Jan to her car, where she deposits several bags in the trunk. He's asks if she got anything good: "New blouse? Halter top? Camisole? Teddy?" She doesn't answer, so he keeps trying. They both know Michael too well.

Bland suburban restaurant interior. Dwight tells Jan he could save the branch if she let him run it. She's both amused and curious: "Okay," she says. "Okay I can run it?" he asks. Damn, easiest coup ever! She blinks slowly, rewinds. "What would you do differently?" she clarifies. She must drink a lot on her off time. Dwight says he would get rid of waste, "which is half the people there." So he's a fighter, not a lover. A waitress arrives with two plates of waffles, all for Dwight. Jan says he must feel pretty strongly to go behind Michael's back and turn on his coworkers. Then she watches him douse his waffles in 8,000 calories of syrup. No wonder he's always so wide awake, yet stupid.

"The decision to turn on Michael was difficult," he says. "But once I did it, I didn't look back. And mostly I feel that Michael would approve. It's really what's best for the branch." I think what Michael thinks is best for the branch is Michael, running the whole shebang and playing backup on tambourine. But Dwight continues singing his own praises: "And I could care less about my coworkers." He digs into his massive carb overload with relish. "So. Here we are. It's all on the table. I want the branch. And I await your decision." He slops forkfuls of waffle into his mouth while Jan watches. Nice! All this time she's been thinking Michael was the bottom of the barrel, and here it turns out that barrel had a false bottom. Thank God he's already got a girlfriend. As Dwight chews, he tells her there's a new Ann Taylor outlet close by; he knows she likes their earrings. She considers this for a moment, then asks, "Where is it?" Already we're starting to see the cracks in her bossy façade, aren't we? She loves shopping as much as Kelly does! Because she's a girl, obviously.

Now we're back with Michael in his office, getting yelled at again, only this time via speakerphone: "Michael! I had a very interesting conversation with one of your employees." He thinks that's nice. Jan thinks otherwise. She tells him about Dwight's devilish plot to overthrow him. Before this can begin to sink in for Michael, he trips over the semantics: "What? You were at the dentist?" Oh, dear. I gift him five mental Emmys for the delivery of that line alone, and it only gets better from here. Jan tells him to get control of his branch, stat!

Michael's talking head: "What was Dwight thinking? That he could turn Jan against me? She's my ex-lover— ish."

Fashion show at lunch! Kelly, Phyllis, and Meredith all "Wow" Pam when she enters the break room in her ruffly new top. "It is so sexy, you look so hot," Kelly tells her. It is cute, too, very flattering and not Pam. She says it's too much: she's not comfortable out here in the open like this, with her bare arms and bare neckline. Nothing to hide inside! She's going to return it. Kelly says she should wear it for the rest of the day, see how she feels. Now I want to go shopping with Kelly—she could probably help me solve my persistent preppy problem.

OMG: enter Roy! To do some under-the-radar scamming on the girl he lost and decided he desperately wants back. Not a chance, Roy! Only I kind of like Roy. And he likes Pam's ruffly new top, too, and tells her she looks nice, trying to sound all cool and nonchalant, till Kelly says, "Isn't that like your third soda today?" See? It's hard to do any personality overhauling in front of people who know you.

Stamford. Jim is on the phone, doing actual business, when Random Office Worker kills the lights: "Call of Duty" time! Wow, these people waste way more of their Monday than they do in Scranton. Where the hell is Jan during all this? Still shopping, I guess. "Again?" Jim asks Karen, who says, "Scared?" Then Rashida Jones gets her cutest moment ever, flashing a little "rock on!" hand signal at the camera while she says "Call of Duty!" with all of her teeth. Which totally reminds me of my friend Beth, by the way.

In the midst of much shooting and killing, Josh exits his office and flips the lights back on. He needs to see Jim and Andy in the conference room, where he takes a few precious minutes of game time to bust their chops about their losing German strategy. Andy blames it all on Jim. Then they have the best conversation anybody's ever had in Connecticut, which makes Jim fear he might be working with aliens:

Andy: "It's the new guy."
Jim: "Oh, I'm sorry I don't know"¦what we're talking about."
Andy: "See what I mean?"
Josh: "We just need a strategy, okay? We're gonna set up a trap in the gun room. All right Jim, are you using the MP-40 or the 44?"
Jim: "Um, sniper rifle?"
Josh: "Snipe—"
Andy: "What?"
Josh: "Jim!"
Andy: "Are you playing for the other team?!"
Josh: "You don't snipe in Carrington, okay?"
Andy: "Saboteur! Saboteur!"
Josh: "Andy, it's not—"
Andy: "I'm going to kill you for real. This game, the game is over. I'm really going to shoot you."

Andy's officially a loon, and I officially love him, which is a very long way from how much I hated him when I saw this episode the first time around. Open minds, people! Except for Josh. I have no use for Josh.

Back in Scranton, Dwight's Trans Am wheels into the parking lot. Michael's waiting at his desk. Waiting to snare him, that is, with a plan so masterful in its audacity and brilliance it's hard to even recount. "Hey Dwight, you want an M&M?" he says when Dwight walks in. Dwight says no, thanks, he's stuffed, which is actually true. Michael insists, pouring M&Ms into Dwight's palm and watching closely as chews them before they melt in his hand. They eye each other warily, like Russell Crowe and that lion in Gladiator. "Good, huh?" Michael asks. Dwight agrees, stepping gingerly around Michael to get to his desk.

"Hey!" Michael says. Still ensnaring. "I thought you weren't supposed to eat anything for a couple of hours after you've had a crown put in." Dwight looks nervous; he is not a liar by trade, so he's on slippery ground here. He tells Michael they have a new quick-drying bonding at the dentist, which is all well and good until Michael asks for the guy's name. They stare at each other for a moment, former compatriots now locked in a battle for the crown. "Crentist," says Dwight. Oh, bravo! But Michael doesn't bat an eye: "Your dentist's name is Crentist," he says flatly. "Hah"¦sounds a lot like "˜dentist.'" I love this: it's like a massive brain-off, only nobody has any brains. But Dwight tells him, "Maybe that's why he became a dentist." Score!

Too bad Michael wants to inspect Dwight's teeth. Bad for all of us. "I want to see "˜em. Let me see "˜em," he says. His voice is getting a little ferocious. Dwight's jaw slowly widens. Michael grabs him by the hair and forces his head back, and I am forced to close my eyes because there are some things I just don't want to see up close. Michael grimaces, too: "You should floss," says the man with the Ultra Brite smile. Dwight agrees. He thinks he's safe; he thinks he passed this test. Michael retreats to his office. Ryan is just confused.

Michael's talking head: "Business is like a jungle. And I am like a tiger. And Dwight is like a monkey that stabs the tiger in the back with a stick. Does the tiger fire the monkey? Does the tiger transfer the monkey to another branch?" He smiles at his own wicked wit. "Pun. There is no way of knowing what goes on inside the tiger's head. We don't have the technology." Or the brains, as has already been stated.

He steps out of his office again, tells Dwight he needs to talk to him. Then he turns back, his whole body one stiff movement, and shoots the camera with a look that's the best cross between mastermind and moron—somehow both wide-eyed and half-lidded—I've ever seen. What a mad, mad man.

Cut to the two of them sitting in the side chairs in Michael's office. Michael does a hard exhale and then, after much overwrought hemming and hawing, hits Dwight right between the eyes, metaphorically:

Michael, improvising failure: "Well, I just got off the phone with Jan. And, um...she demoted me."
Dwight, improvising outrage: "No."
Michael, improvising disbelief: "Yeah. You know what the craziest part of this is? She demoted me to your job!"
Dwight, continued fake outrage: "God!"
Michael starts to pick up steam: "And she said that you should be expecting a call later from corporate, and that um, I guess that means that you are going to be acting manager of Dunder-Mifflin Scranton."
Dwight, trying to conceal his glee: "I can't believe this news. That"¦wow."
Michael, reeling him in mentally: "I know. I told her I didn't know whether you'd wanna do it...because you've always been so loyal to me. You've been my most trusted ally."
Dwight: "You said that?"
Michael: "Yep, I did. I did." (Long pause while he waits for Dwight to confess his sins.) "But I think...you should do it."
Dwight: "Well. Gosh, if you think I should. Then I will."
Not what Michael was expecting. He turns and gives the camera a "Can you believe the nerve of this fucker?" look and goes with it. Ready to rumble!
Michael, suddenly in a hurry: "Perfect! Well, we're settled."
Dwight: "All right."
Michael: "All right. Well then, you are now acting manager of Dunder-Mifflin Scranton Branch, and I...am assistant regional manager."
Dwight, as king: "Assistant to the regional manager. Thank you Michael, for staying on. I really appreciate it."
Michael: "Ohh."

It's the fact that the actors are so good and that the characters as actors are so bad that makes it all such pure gold.

Now Dwight actually leans in and places his hands on both sides of Michael's head, and just like that, the color and feigned amusement drain from Steve Carell's face. It's a little scary to watch someone so typically light go so dark so quickly. Dwight says, "Hey...I can't imagine this place without you." Michael: "Can't you?" He pauses to break into the freakiest grin imaginable, looking just like that demon-possessed dummy in Magic. "That's so nice!" he hisses through bared fangs. Yow.

He says they should go share the news. "Yeah, when I'm ready, Mike," Dwight tells him. Michael can't even believe what an idiot this guy is, and he's known him for years. Dwight sighs, then says it's time. Michael stares into the camera again, ready to rain all manner of havoc and misery on Dwight's poor unsuspecting head.

Act III.

Together they step out into the office, where Michael makes a jolly announcement: "Hey, hi, hello. Everybody, I have some good news, and I have some bad news. I am being replaced as your leader by Dwight!" Nobody believes it but Angela. "Congratulations, Dwight!" "Thank you, Angela," he says. Stanley goes for the obvious: "But"¦why Dwight?" he asks. "Because Dwight never lies," says Michael. Stanley asks how that qualifies him to run a branch? "Because that's all it takes," Michael says. And in his eyes, that's probably true.

Next he asks Dwight to say a few words about loyalty. Slam! Dwight: "Thank you Michael. I just want to say, to the few of you who will remain under my employ, that I intend to lead you into the black! With ferocity!" I don't know; I think he accidentally grew two pairs out in that parking lot. Michael surveys the crew like a master magician with plenty of tricks left up his sleeve. Phyllis is concerned on his behalf, though. "Michael? What will you do?" she asks, so sweetly and sincerely. He says he'll be fine, and Kevin asks if he has any savings. Nope! Kevin says he might lose his condo. Michael bats this away, as well. He knows something they don't!

Pam's talking head: "I have this little vacuum cleaner that's broken. If Dwight doesn't work out, maybe that could be manager." Then Phyllis: "Maybe I'll quit."

Dwight and Angela are in the break room. "It's really happening," she says with stars in her eyes. "We can make a difference here." All of her dreams have been realized. Except Dwight says, "I will make a difference here." All emphasis on Dwight. She bristles. "You alone? Because I thought together we could—" He cuts her off and tells her not to be naïve. She starts rethinking her taste in men, until he throws her a bone and tells her she can be in charge of the women. Woo hoo! That's all she really wanted anyway.

Back to Stamford, and the game. Karen is watching Onscreen "Call of Duty" Jim as he scrambles to climb a corner. "Look how cute he is! He's trying to shoot with a smoke grenade." Real Jim wants to know what she's whispering about. He's so tired of Not-Movie Monday: it's like one whole long day of being Dwight. Or Toby. Or Michael. Exhausting! She tells him to concentrate on turning his game self around, then gives him a couple keyboard pointers. It works. But Karen is pointing a gun right at Onscreen Jim's head when he turns, and she asks Real Jim if he has any last words. He's got nothing. She shoots, and "You killed Jim Halpert" appears on her monitor. She laughs. He's both impressed and alarmed. "Psychopath"¦" he tells the camera. She smiles: she likes him! I guess we all knew this day had to come.

In Scranton, Creed steps up to the reception desk. Pam says "What?" and he tells her he's just looking. Ew. A million times yuck. She asks him to please go back to his desk, and he says, "In a minute." She pulls on her sweater, then tells the camera she remembers why she dresses the way she does at work. "But I'm gonna keep the clothes. I mean, it'll be cool to just have some after work clothes that aren't pajamas." Good for you! But that was really a far-out nasty little scene. This whole episode tilts more toward the cringe than the comedy, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, only it takes some internal adjusting.

On to Dwight, who is unpacking all his worldly goods in Michael's office. Unceremoniously piling Michael's toys in his in-box while Michael looks on. Michael can't believe the multiple crimes against his person that are being committed here, right before his eyes. And then we reach our defining moment. Dwight sits in Michael's chair, behind Michael's desk, and begins pecking away at Michael's keyboard. And Michael circles in for the kill.

"Well, I guess it's time that I turn over the keys to the famous Sebring!" he says, dangling them in Dwight's face. Dwight says thanks but no thanks. Michael reminds him it's a corporate lease—Dwight has earned the corporate car! The greatest symbol of Michael's power; his talisman, if you will. Whosoever shall hold the keys to the Sebring shall hold the keys to the world. But Dwight doesn't want them. "Not my style," he says. Michael literally cannot believe what he is hearing. "But you said you liked it. You've always admired it." He's starting to sweat: his entire character is now in question. Who is he without his Sebring? Dwight, that's who. Dwight shrugs. "Well that was before. I'm thinking about getting something German, something with decent gas mileage. Plus, that convertible, it's a ridiculous choice for this climate." See? Loads of common sense that makes no sense in this context at all; Dwight just has no feel for timing or audience.

Michael has officially reached his limit: nobody craps on his ride! "Take it back," he seethes. Dwight can't see what's coming, so he simply says "No." Oh, Dwight, you're about to lose everything, man! Everything! "That's my car," Michael reminds him, and then he barks, "That's my car!" But it's still not sinking in. "Yes," Dwight answers, placidly. The fool.

And then Michael explodes all over him: "I know, Dwight! I know, I know, I know!" "You know what?" says Dwight. Dwight's a little thick, huh? Michael tells him Jan let the cat out of the bag, and Dwight's animal instinct finally kicks in. That took way longer than it should have for a man with such an affinity for wildlife. He tries to backpedal by assuring Michael the Sebring's cool! Michael doesn't care: "I know what you did. I made the whole thing up, Dwight!" He's off the charts pissed, but he's pretty impressed with himself, too, because Dwight fell right into his man-sized bear trap. And now he's screaming like a girl (I'm sorry, but he really is): "How dare you!? How dare you, Dwight?"

Now it's Dwight's turn to break down, and he drops to his knees as everyone outside watches. From royalty to supplicant in one fell swoop, left begging for mercy. Except Michael isn't done screaming. He squats at Dwight's level and scolds, "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't fire you right here on the spot!" Really, he needs to win an Emmy for this, and they can throw in a retroactive one for last year, too.

Dwight is beside himself, desperate to atone. "I have excellent sales numbers!" he shouts, and Michael says, "Not good enough!" Even Stanley looks scared. Dwight is crying. He offers to do Michael's laundry for a month. But Michael has a laundry machine! Angela cringes as she looks on: this is not the happy ending she had in mind. Finally she has to turn away, because Dwight's got his head wrapped in his hands and is whimpering on the floor. Wow. I don't think anybody is surprised by where this went, but still. It's surprising.

Michael tells Dwight he doesn't know if he can trust him anymore, and Dwight admits that he can't. Interesting choice! "But I promise I'll never betray you again! What can I do, Michael? What can I do?" Phyllis looks sad; Ryan might vomit. Dwight lies prostrate at Michael's feet while Michael preens before the camera. He's won! Mission accomplished. Now he can afford to be benevolent: "You can get up," he says. Dwight stumbles to his feet, his face wet with tears and drool. Awesome! I mean, it's totally gross and all, but I love how Rainn Wilson commits with his fluids. Then Michael says, "And you can hug it out, bitch." Ah! Sorry. He's both Ari and Vince. Dwight squeezes both eyes shut and dives at Michael, pulling him into the most tenderly masculine male bear hug ever. Whew. Friends again! Michael eyes the camera. All is cool, if not forgiven.

His talking head: "Hug it out, bitch. That is what men say to each other, after a fight. They hug it out, and doing so, they just let it go"¦." A quick cut to the two of them sitting in the conference room watching TV. Sharing a bag of microwave popcorn like a couple of girlfriends. I'm sorry, but it's true. They're both smiling like girls. Angela sees them through the window and scowls. She's a different kind of girl, that's all. It's not a judgment. Michael's voiceover continues: ""¦and walk away. And they're done. Not a good idea to say that to a woman however. I have found. Doesn't translate."

In Stamford, Jim is packing up after his miserable day of defeat. The office is almost empty. He is out of his element here, among strangers. At the door he turns back to Karen, pulls a pin from an imaginary grenade and tosses it to her. It imaginarily lands on her desk, and she throws a handful of paperclips into the air with a grin. She watches him leave. Aw, she's in love!! Stamford Karen rocks.

Tag.

Michael at his desk. "Yeah. Yep, we hugged it out. But it turns out I was still a little angry. So I felt I needed to punish him just a little bit more." We see Dwight standing in the middle of the office on a box, head hanging low, wearing a sign around his neck that says "LIAR" in big fucking letters. Michael sits at his desk with his feet up, peering out the window at his own amazing management style in action, and says, "And I'm making him do my laundry for a year." Oh, it's good to be king.

The Office: The Convention

Teaser.

Pam is sitting quietly at her desk typing, probably dreaming of a day when she won't have to endure an early morning conversation like the following.

Michael enters and asks her if she saw Oprah yesterday. He catches After the Show on oh!Oxygen, I'll bet, while he eats light microwave popcorn and downs a Michelob Ultra in a special frosty mug. And Pam must either be bored, not fully awake or nursing a cold, because she takes the bait. She did not see Oprah yesterday. Michael ignores both his original question and her subsequent answer and announces he is going to be a father. Far out! Pam ignores this and asks him what Oprah was about. There's just no way he can appreciate her as much as he absolutely should. Turns out Angelina Jolie was on—no doubt tipping the Oprah sainthood needle deep into the red—and she inspired Michael not with her ample female charms or witchy cat's-eye liner but with tales of the life-changing virtues of adoption. So now he wants Pam to "see how much a little Chinese baby would cost." Lucky it wasn't a show about sex change operations or gun running or something.

Pam hesitates and tells him that's a really big decision. Maybe he should wait before he adopts? Or not adopts? It's clear which side she stands on. But he's ready. He wants to cross this off his to-do list for the day: Wake up, drive to work, be stupid, adopt! Check, check, check, and check. But Pam knows his dreams rarely outlast his willingness to pay for them, so she tells him Roy's sister looked into it and the application alone cost a thousand dollars. Nice try, Pam! But no: he argues with himself (wordlessly but vocally) for a moment, then says, "Find out if there's a cheaper—less expensive baby out there." Always trying to control his own brain, to little or no effect.

She tells him the waiting list is also at least eight months. "Eight months?" he says. "I don't even know if I want a baby in eight months." D'oh! Michael Scott 1, brain 0. "Probably won't," she says. He sighs heavily and she does the same; I like how she accepts that empathy is her albatross. Until: "You know what Pam? If in ten years I haven't had a baby, and you haven't had a baby—" She shakes her head. "No, Michael." He tries again: "Twenty years." No again. "Thirty?" "Sure." They shake on it.

I'm confused. In thirty years won't she be in her sixties or something? Or is she counting on him being dead? What the hell did they just agree to here?

Act I.

Ryan is in Michael's office, running through a checklist: three pairs of pants, three pairs of socks, three packs of condoms. Hello, sunshine! Michael grins and pitches a "Yesssshhhh" at the camera along with a naughty grin. "Fun jeans," Ryan reads. Cut to Michael's office door, where his Fun Jeans hang starched and pressed, still cocooned in their plastic dry cleaning bag. Even worse: they're white jeans, which means that wherever he's going, he definitely won't be needing condoms. He's wearing a gray Dunder-Mifflin polo, though, which is all the fun I need. God bless well-shaven boneheads in corporate casual wear.

Enter Angela to dole out a handful o' cash (!), and on to Michael's talking head. "Guess where I am going. I will give you a hint. It is a booze-fueled sex romp, where anything goes." Well that could be anywhere, really, including Wisconsin Dells and Dubuque, Iowa. I don't even think he actually needs a camera for this stuff; I'll bet he supplies his own voiceovers when he's home alone, too. In front of the mirror maybe, but still. He keeps going: "You are correct, sir! I am headed to Philadelphia for the Annual Northeastern Mid-Market Office Supply Convention. And Jim Halpert is going to be coming, which will be fun. Poor little guy. He's been stuck working under Josh, the poor man's Michael Scott, as he is known around my condo." See? He sits alone at home and talks to his mirror about himself.

Dwight and Angela are in the break room. He is also sporting a Dunder-Mifflin polo, which means he'll be attending the ANMMOSC, too. Dwight and Jim reunion! I hope they swap friendship bracelets. But for now he's standing at a vending machine and Angela's at the water cooler, backs to each other, which allows them to talk while not making eye contact. Wink, wink: that way no one will know they're lovers! They probably have these rules written up at home. He tells her not to be mad, it's just a business trip, but she's mad anyway. Although mad is her natural state, so I'm not sure why he's trying to change her. She tells him the convention is for managers and he says, "Monkey, I am an A. R. M. Assistant Regional Manager." It's a little sad when you need to remind even your girlfriend of that. Pet names are revealing, though, aren't they? I can't see him using a "Muffin" or "Sugarplum," but "Monkey" maybe says more than I care to know about either of them.

Nor is she so easily placated: she tells him she was hoping they could spend some time together. Which throws him for a loop: how can he fulfill his A.R.M. duties and be a caring boyfriend at the same time? Beats him. So he says nothing, which forces her to say, "Are you still there?" And now she's even madder. He answers, "Yes, Monkey." Again: ew, and only partially because I'm reminded both of that ickity short story and Homer's Treehouse of Horror II take on it. And she's still pissed. "Don't 'Monkey' me, you can't wait to get out of here, A.R.M.!" That's exactly what I'm talking about! It's all coming together, and creepily.

Angela's talking head: "In the Martin family, we like to say, ‘Looks like someone took the slow train from Philly.' That's code for 'check out the slut.'" She stops suddenly and bats a hand at the air.  "What is...why are there flies in here?" This might be my favorite non sequitur of all time, and I hope we find out it was just an accident in the course of filming the scene.

Kelly bounces over to Pam's desk in her general Tigger way: she's so excited! "Oh my God! Are you so excited for tonight? I am so excited. You guys are going to click, I can feel it. So what are you wearing?" Pam has a date! And is far less excited than Kelly; in fact, she has no plans to change clothes at all. Dating Roy must have killed her shopping spirit—isn't dressing up at least 3/4 of the fun of a blind date? Maybe 7/8, or 7/8–1/2, or maybe the whole damn thing. Kelly's girl-power heart is weary; she gives Pam a slow up and down appraisal, then decides it's better to kill with kindness: "You look so pretty." Her face, however, does not agree with her voice.

Pam tells the camera that her date is a cartoonist for the local paper (such bad news), which is neat because she also likes to draw. She's nervous, though, because she hasn't been on a first date in nine years. She wasted nine years on Roy? Oh my God, go buy yourself a fucking ballgown, sweetheart. And a bright, sparkly tiara, and maybe some shoes that light up all red hot when you strut down the street. Then head to Vegas and have the kind of weekend you can't tell anybody about.

Now Kelly is warning her not to sleep with the cartoonist on the first date, because "it gives them all the power." She's so right, and I'm not sure cartoonists have much experience with power, so that's guaranteed to go badly. But it is the perfect time for Michael to step out of his office: "Sleep with who? Whom—whom, whom?" It's like he's begging somebody to stop him, or kick him in the head. So Kelly does, metaphorically: it's her neighbor, Alan, she says. You've got to love the middle-Americanness of all the names on this show, don't you? Nobody's "Kayla" or "Jaden" or "Butterfly." "Creed" is about as far-out as they go. As is Creed.

Now Michael is preoccupied with wardrobe matters. "I have a great idea. Know what you should do? Be hilarious? Wear your wedding dress." But would that be funny to anyone but Michael? And Dwight: the camera pans over to reveal him standing by, giggling. I'm glad to see he's prepping his neck with an inflatable pillow for the long ride to Philly. He breaks in to suggest Pam should wear her veil, as well. The two of them laugh about this longer than necessary, and Pam says she'll probably just wear what she's wearing. Really? Michael says. "Word of advice: unbutton that top button. Let those things breathe." I can think of few things skeevier than hearing something like that from your boss, even if he is a major (dimwit) fox. But he mercifully distracts her from his own inappropriateness by asking if she has anything to say to Jim, and she hesitates, giving the rest of us time to fill in all the blanks with sweet words of love and neverending devotion. How differently we all wanted this to go. Unfortunately, her answer to Michael is a simple "Um," which he and Dwight turn into a rousing Gilbert & Sullivan number as they bumble their way out the door. Good riddance! says Pam's face.

Cut to the kitchen, where Angela is enjoying what appears to be a bowl of Rice Krispies. I could be wrong. Also: that deep majestic purple is not her color. Is it anyone's color? I think not. It's sucking the life right out of her. Anyway: Creed walks in. "There's my girl! Noticed you handing out some shekels. How would one get on that train?" With a matching Dunder-Mifflin polo and a neck pillow, dude.

Angela tells him that was per diem for Philadelphia. Meredith, sitting with Angela, complains that Philadelphia smells like cheesesteaks. As if that's a bad thing. For some reason Angela takes offense: "That town is full of history!" Hang on. What happened to the sluts? Angela needs a continuity check, stat! Either that or she's trying to convince herself that Dwight's love will remain true, even amongst all the sluts. Regardless of her motivation, she overreacts by storming from the room. Creed takes her seat and digs into her cereal. "Andrea's the office bitch," he tells Meredith. "You'll get used to her." Then he introduces himself and reaches over to shake her hand. Which is so good you need to watch it at least 25 times to appreciate exactly how deep runs the comedy goldmine known as Creed.

Next: Michael and Dwight are on the slow train to Philly. Michael is wearing headphones, and Dwight's neck pillow. Probably just yanked it right off of Dwight's shoulders when he turned his head. Dwight asks if he can have it back. Michael pretends not to hear. Oh, the endless sacrifices of a DM A.R.M.

Touchdown Philadelphia. Michael is greeting Josh in the lobby when in walks Jim. Jim! Come home, Jim! The office is a foreign and vaguely hostile environment without you in it, and The Temp took your desk, and Pam has no idea where to spend all day looking anymore! Michael, feeling for all of us, calls him a traitor, then hugs him and says, "The prod—the progidal—my son returns." Michael at his finest: both sweet and stupid. He tells the camera he was shocked when he found out Jim was transferring: "It's like with firemen. You don't leave your brothers behind, even if you find out that there is a better fire in Connecticut." Analogies not being his strong point. I wish we could have seen that, though. Jim's leaving. Pam's heart was not the only one broken.

For now Jim is all smiles: "It's really good to see you, man!" he tells Michael, and I secretly hope for a quick reprisal of "Islands in the Stream." But alas, ‘tis not to be. Michael is flattered out of all proportion by this; Jim is still who he wants to be when he grows up, which is funny, because Michael is exactly what Jim is afraid of becoming when he grows up. They should probably go have a beer and a long talk about this sometime. But Dwight interrupts their reunion by saying, with a conspicuous lack of sincerity, "Oh, hey, how's it goin' up there?" He asks Jim if he's made any sales yet, and Jim tells him he's sold about $40,000. Dwight: "Shut up, that's impossible!" No go on the friendship bracelets, I guess. Dwight says he did $40,000, too, and Michael shakes his head no.

Jim's talking head: "You know, when I saw Dwight, I realized how stupid and petty all those pranks I pulled on him were. And then he spoke. I wonder how hard it would be to get a copy of his room key." With that long manly gait and lopsided schoolboy smile? Not hard at all, my friend.

Back in the office, Kevin tells Toby that Pam has a date. They're both standing in the background watching her, which feels a little invasive. Then Kevin says, "If I weren't engaged, I would so hit that." Go perv on somebody else, Kevin! Toby looks thoughtful as he formulates his next move. Everybody really does love Pam.

In Philadelphia, all the boyz (I know, right? Me with the hip lingo!) are rolling their luggage to the elevators. Dwight asks Jim what kind of commissions they get in Stamford, and Jim drapes a hand across his shoulders. "Oh, Dwight, I missed you so much." I missed the way he puts that "uh" in "Duh-wight." Dwight tells him he's immature and does a full-body shake-off. They really need to get this band back together, stat!

Michael and Josh are following behind. Steve Carell's kinda short, huh? The best kind of short, not freaky or anything, just solid. And Josh is way too movie-star handsome to be a good guy; you can just tell he's going to turn out to be a major league dick. It's written in his chiseled features and dimpled chin. And then he proves it by telling Michael that if his branch absorbs the Scranton office, he'll find a place for Michael in Stamford. Awesome! Michael gives the camera a "whatever, jackass!" look and we hear Jan's voice. Jan! Ever the taskmaster, she's here to make sure they're all checked in, then tells them to meet back in the lobby in half an hour. I love the way she tries and fails to avoid staring at Michael. "Casino Night" looms large, no? Passed over by Michael Scott! This won't be pretty. She looks pretty, though; she should always wear cornflower blue. Brings out the Paul Newman in her eyes.

Michael pulls her aside and tells her they should set some ground rules. She says "What are you talking about?" in a way that sounds just like "What the fuck?" and he says, "The eight hundred pound gorilla in the room? Carol? I'm still dating her, so nothing can happen between us at the convention." I think he just called Carol a gorilla. And wow—I'm surprised that one lasted this long. Unless he's lying. Jan just looks pissed: "Step away from me, Michael." Aw, she totally wants him. Give him your room key, Jan! You know he has no self-control. And why else would he bring all those condoms? He thanks her for being so brave with all of this. She still looks pissed about how much she still wants him. Or am I projecting? You tell me.

Cut to Pam in the kitchen, reading the newspaper. She gives a half-hearted little laugh at the lameness of one of Alan's cartoons. Kelly walks in. "Alan's cartoon's so funny, right? And they're, like, so smart. I don't even know what they mean half the time." Maybe that's because they're lame? Pam nods, then sets the paper aside. Pam is no dumbbell, even if she did waste nine non-refundable years on Roy.

Toby walks in. Shy, gentle, emotionally bespectacled Toby, with his head down, already defeating himself. He says nothing, just gives Pam a quick wave, then continues through the room without a word. Of all the characters on this show, Toby is the only one who actually knows and accepts that he's a loser. Encourages it, even. It's like this white flag he's always flying in front of his own face, so he can never really be surprised or disappointed by anything.

Back in Philadelphia: Michael and Dwight are partifying Michael's room. Dwight is hanging a Velcro dartboard on the TV cabinet while Michael stocks the cocktail bar. Enter Jim and Josh, who are also dangerously matchy-matchy and maybe close to gay in their light-colored button-down shirts. Jim says something snotty about the dartboard and all the liquor, and Michael tells him, "That's how we party in Scranton, or did you forget?" Which is all he and Dwight need to launch into another sing-song: "Ain't no party like a Scranton party ‘cuz a Scranton party don't stop!" They bust a couple middle-aged white-guy moves together while Jim and Josh look on, looking both dazed and confused. Jim, don't become the enemy!

Finally Josh cuts them off: it's time to go meet Jan. Michael asks if they want a drink for the road. Josh shoots Jim a sly look and says, "A shot of MIDORI, perhaps." They chuckle together and Michael quickly joins in, displaying perhaps a shade too much enthusiasm for a line he doesn't understand. Dwight, who takes all his cues from Michael, does the same. Jim tries to explain the joke, then says "You'd just have to be there." Michael: "I wish I was! I love inside jokes. Hope to be a part of one some day." The clue to his genius is all right here, in his absolute obliviousness to his own failings, both great and small. He's both Toby and Toby's polar opposite: he occasionally senses but will never admit to himself that he's a loser, so he can never be surprised or disappointed by anything. He has endless reserves of false self-confidence and misguided bravado to see him through to the darkest times, and it's in this way—and this way alone—that he is able to survive the absolute fucking tornado of a mess that is himself. It's also why, when he does crumble, it's almost unbearable to watch: his defenses are so thin yet so necessary. They're all he has. And so he's able to smile hopefully (desperately) at Jim and Josh, just long enough for them both to turn sad. They finally give up and leave, and Dwight says, "I'll do a shot with you, Michael." Dwight is so man's best friend. Only not Michael's, who just says, "Yech, don't be gross. It's not even lunch yet."

Act II.

Michael and Dwight stand huddled together on the convention floor, surrounded by random conventioneers as they wave at the camera like the first dorks off the bus on a class trip to the Smithsonian. And then we see Michael alone, wearing a branded hat, a windbreaker, and a giant Verizon styrofoam finger, carrying at least three bags filled with branded crap. "SWAG!" he announces. "Stuff We All Get. I basically decorated my condo for free with all of my SWAG!" I hope this isn't true, while fully understanding that it is.

Next they stand in line to meet Jerome Bettis, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers. After a quick introduction, Michael invites Jerome to his big party, naturally expecting him to accept. It's a Scranton party! Jerome says, "All right, maybe. If I can." Which can't really be misinterpreted by anyone but Michael, who says, "Well, cool! Okay, so—can I tell people you're gonna be there?" Jerome: "No, you cannot." Michael: "So maybe. See ya." Michael's kind of a human version of a Weeble. As they walk away, Dwight asks why they call Jerome "The Bus," and Michael tells him, "Because he's afraid to fly."

Next he's having Dwight take his picture while he stands next to a human BlackBerry. And the way Steve Carell is standing, dressed in all his logo-covered detritus, with his arms hanging loosely at his sides and looking both slouchy and paunchy, is like fifteen different kinds of pathetic. Just—pathetic, because he's having the time of his life out here. A showman on the show floor. And even more pathetic: he's inviting the human BlackBerry to his party. "Tonight! Be there," he says. To a person dressed as a BlackBerry.

Later. He and Dwight have circled back up with Josh and Jim. Josh, checking his actual real BlackBerry, has a message from Jan. She wants them all to meet her up front. Michael pulls out his phone and checks the screen. "Yep. Yeah, she's up front." Dwight: "You don't have email on your phone." Michael says, "I don't have to, I just know." Know what? He holds it to his ear and says, "Yes, hello?" Dwight: "No one just called you." Oh, Dwight; we don't need you here making us feel bad about ourselves.

As Josh and Jim walk away, Michael asks Dwight for a moment of his time. Excellent: a new mission! "I want you to dig up some dirt on Josh. Find out if there are any skeletons in his attic." I'm afraid you've got some skeletons in the old attic, honey, but let's set that aside for the time being. Dwight says he'll talk to his buddy down at the station, stat. Dwight has buddies? And which station would that be? It probably doesn't matter, or exist.

In the office, Pam is sitting at her desk when Toby approaches. "Hey Pam," he says, sounding startled by his own voice. She asks him what's up and he mumbles something ("It's, uh—how are—wanted to ask if you wanted—"), putting forth all the bravery one sad little human resources rep can muster, and then the phone rings. Pam answers. And in the space of no more than three seconds we watch Toby physically deflate, just fold right in on himself, unsure what to do with his hands, or himself. She doesn't need to say no; he'll shoot himself down all on his own. He waits until she hangs up and turns back to him. "Sorry. What's up?" she says. He hesitates; she smiles. In Toby's world, even Pam is scary. He tries mumbling again and says, finally, "I just completely forgot what I was gonna say. That's—so weird." Yeah, and painful to watch, too. She tells him to come back if he thinks of it, but I don't think he's ever coming back. He walks away, mentally punching himself in the gut. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world...

Philadelphia: time for a buffet lunch! Oh my God, I used to waitress at stuff like this when I was in college, at a resort called Chula Vista that was owned by the biggest family of assholes you could ever meet in your whole life. What a fucking nightmare. Weddings were the worst, because brides were involved, but "professional functions" were never a picnic, and there was always salad dressing everywhere at those buffets. People are animals. Anyway. Michael and Dwight are plotting in the beverage corner. Dwight says, "I called my buddy at the station today. Had them run a background check on Josh Porter. See if there's any known aliases, et cetera." Michael waits for something big. Something good. "And?" And Dwight says, "He wasn't volunteering today." Dwight would like an A for effort, but no dice. Both Michael and his disgust walk away in a huff.

Next he's bellied up to the salad bar with Jim. Things are crazy around the office, he says; Ryan has Jim's desk now. Jim tells him to say hi. "I will call him later with that message," says Michael. I trust Ryan won't be picking up. Then Jim smiles to himself and says, "Hey, how is—" He looks at the camera, then says, "—Toby?" Meaning Pam. But Michael is blinded by the mention of his own archenemy: "Toby Flenderson is everything that is wrong with the paper industry. Is he why you left?"  Jim says no, it was a good opportunity, a promotion, but Michael doesn't buy it. Nobody leaves Dunder-Mifflin Scranton—and him—just for a promotion! "You know, Jim, those are just words. Have you taken into account other factors, vis-a-vis bosses? Is Josh funnier than I am? Does he even have a girlfriend? Because I have two, basically." Or zero, probably. Jim tells him it's not a competition, but he knows better than that. Everything's a competition, Jim!

At the lunch table, Josh and Jan are talking business. Michael is determined to impress her in a totally Michael Scott way: "Hey Jan, don't worry, I have got the tip." He hands a hundred bones to the waiter, who is having the kind of day I never had at these things. Bastard. We used to have to steal dry English muffins and eat them behind the dishwasher, where it was like a million degrees. That was a very long time ago, though, so I should probably get over it. Back to the $$$: Dwight asks Michael if that was his per diem, and Michael says, "No, that was a different hundred dollar bill." Jan narrows her eyes (you know the look) and asks him what he's generated. "I have generated a lot of interest in my party this evening," he tells her. And he's got three packs of condoms! "What party?" she asks. "The party I'm having tonight in 308. Obviously, you are invited." She doesn't look excited about this; maybe he should mention the Fun Jeans! She says, "Michael, um... Jim and Josh are in meetings all day. And I am in and out of meetings. I can't stay on top of you 24/7." Oh, Jan, how easily you fall into these wicked, wicked webs he spins. He laughs at her, into the camera. His make-believe girlfriend.

Pam and Phyllis are busy taking a break in the office; Pam is sitting in Dwight's chair. Oh good: I love girl talk!  Phyllis tells her she should order the most expensive thing on the menu tonight, "so he knows you're worth it." Phyllis, you frisky little minx! Stanley overhears this and offers a man fact: "If you do that, you're going to have to put out." Pam rolls her eyes at Phyllis, who nods and says, "Oh yeah, you'll have to put out."

Back in Philly, Angela is at the check-in desk picking up a key for "Jane Doe." She's wearing dark glasses, which is how Michael doesn't know it's her when he approaches the desk. Maybe he wouldn't have known anyway; he seems like kind of guy who operates mainly by context. He asks the desk lady if she has any messages for room 308. She shakes her head. Not generating much interest in that party, huh?

The convention resumes: Michael joins Dwight, Jim and Josh, who announces, "Jim and I have a meeting with Uni-ball in about forty-five minutes, so we should probably go now." See? That's just mean. But Michael spies a paper-airplane contest at the Hammermill booth, which means it's time for a challenge. "A little friendly competition. Stamford versus Scranton." Josh tries to decline but Michael will not be denied. They start folding and suddenly his phone rings: it's Pam! Jim looks simultaneously excited and sad. Michael says, "Tell him I will give him general specifics tomorrow, okay?" then holds out the phone to the group: "Say hi to Pam!" They all call "Hi, Pam!" Jim still looks sad. Michael tells her to have fun on her date. Now Jim looks extra sad, with a heavy helping of mope on the side. Cut to Pam, staring sadly at Jim's old desk, where Jim should be. Come home, Jim! Please. Save us all from bad blind dates with cartoon-drawing geeks, unless he is literally Seth Cohen or that Dilbert guy, and even then I'm not so sure.

Josh steps up first to the free-throw line and shoots: his paper airplane falls short of its mark, but it's in the general specific vicinity. Michael's turn: he pitches his plane and watches it drop at his feet. Oh well. No matter! He challenges Josh to double or nothing. Josh tells him they'll do it later; he's lost all patience with this. It's bad enough when Michael's own employees—his family—ignore him, but being dissed by another DM regional manager is totally starting to get him down. Josh and Jim walk away as Evan from Hammermill offers to tell Michael about some exciting advances to their product line. Michael, out of boredom more than anything else, says fine.

Cut to a talking head in his room: "Jim and I have different definitions of friendship. I think it's talking and being friends, and Jim thinks it's moving to Connecticut and being best friends with Josh. Well, phooey on that. I, uh, I'm done. I am not going to be speaking with him anymore. Whatevs. Long-distance relationships never work." The camera pans over and we see Evan from Hammermill, who says, "That is so true. Ready?" I like Evan from Hammermill. Michael says yes, and Evan reaches for his product binder. They're both drinking Cosmos, and ready to talk paper! There really ain't no party like a Scranton party.

Act III.

Approximately 8:07 by the big Philadelphia clock. Michael is joining the rest of his Dunder-Mifflin team in the lobby. He's wearing a yellow Microsoft Office polo and his Fun Jeans. Cute! He really looks tan today, too. "Sorry, my meeting ran late," he says, and he sits. Jan checks her watch like the chaperone she can't stop being, and says, "Really." Don't be that way, Jan. Michael tells her, "Yes, Jan, really. With a rep from Hammermill." Josh says Hammermill is exclusive with Staples. Michael: "Used to be. Evan will call you in the morning and work out the details. We can now sell Hammermill products." He says it matter-of-factly; he never doubts himself when it comes to selling. Stuff that one in your chin dimple, Josh! Dwight pumps an arm and says, "Yes! Hah!" He holds out his hand for a high-five from Michael that never comes. Jan says, "Well, Michael, I underestimated you." Michael: "Yeah, well, maybe next time you will estimate me." She's confused by this, only not really. Mostly I think she's thinking how hot he looks in the Fun Jeans.

Next we see Jim strolling down an empty hallway. He has Dwight's room key. "What can I say? Old habits die hard." He opens the door and sees a pair of bare lady legs on the bed. "D?" says Angela. Yikes! Monkey indeed. Jim turns and bolts: "Oh my god! Dwight got a hooker! Oh my God, I gotta call—well I gotta call somebody, I don't even know who to call! Dwight got a hooker!" He's so excited that this might be the cutest he's ever been.

And now we cut to the person he should be calling: Pam is on her date with Alan. And Kelly, who is force feeding French fries to Ryan. She tells Alan that Pam is "obsessed" with his cartoons: "She reads them every day." Isn't that more of a habit, or even a rut, than an obsession? But Alan looks pleased, and he gives Pam a sleazy once-over kind of smile. Pam says nothing. And Ryan is starting to fuss. "I don't want ketchup!" "You love ketchup," Kelly says, and then she turns to Pam and Alan. "He loves ketchup." It's like she's playing with a doll. Pam asks Alan how he comes up with his cartoons. Alan: "Well, I just, uh... I kinda think about stuff that I see, or dream them." He says this very seriously, like he's churning out the equivalent of War and Peace in longhand on a daily basis. Pam says, "You dream in cartoons? How fun!" It's not fun, though; it's just making all of us feel bad for Alan, who we don't even like.

Back to room 308: party time! A stranger knocks at Michael's door. "Hey, first guest!" says Michael. "You are going to have some tequila, my friend." Stranger, looking wary: "I thought there was a party in here." Michael says this is the party. Stranger doesn't believe him, though, and Michael says, "Party central! So, what can I do you for?" Which is all the stranger needs to hear. He turns and leaves. "All right," Michael says to no one.

Meanwhile, the bad date is still going badly. Kelly is snuggled up against Ryan, trapping him in the booth while she watches her matchmaking in action. Alan is drawing something on a cocktail napkin for Pam. "See, this one is great," he tells her, "because it can work on a couple of different levels." She says "Huh" in a nice, noncommittal way, and then Alan, in a shitty French accent, actually says, "Freedom fries for the table." Pam needs to announce that she has to use the restroom, and then she needs to just leave. But she doesn't. She says, "Freedom fries. Yeah." I hope she's having a conversation with Jim in her head; I hope he can hear all this. But Alan is still talking: "Yeah. I mean, people always say, like, ‘Don't be edgy.' But I don't know any other way." He takes a moment to glance at her cleavage once more, then says, "Yeah, you get it." Yuck. Even Roy is an improvement over this tool. She reaches down to button that top button again. Pam, you know better than to listen to Michael! He has two imaginary girlfriends!

Pause for a quick cut to the hotel. Michael steps out of his room, looks both ways. The hall is empty. He steps back inside.

The date is finally coming to an end. On their way out of the restaurant, Alan is poking at his gums with a toothpick when Pam turns and says, "It was nice meeting you, Alan."  Thank God this exercise is over. He's even dumber than I thought, though, because he tells her to bring some of her illustrations the next time. "I'll let you pick my brain." With a fork, I hope. "More freedom fries," she says with a false note of cheer. "That's great." Only great = lame, and everyone but Alan understands this.

She stops at the restroom door to tell the camera, "I went on a date. It wasn't a love connection. I think when I like someone again, I'll just kinda know." I think so, too. Only I think you already know who you like.

Philadelphia. Jim follows the sound of crappy electronic robot music down the hallway to Michael's room, where Michael is sitting alone in the glow of a strobe light, staring into a flashlight. Poor lonely little man with his toys; he's finally hit the bottom of his well of self-awareness, and he's tapped out for the night. Jim turns off the music and flips on the light. He asks Michael is he's the first to arrive, and Michael tells him people have been filtering in and out. He won't look up, though, because he's busy pouting. Jim asks if he can have a drink. And Michael, as the host who knows he has a hostly duty to perform, says, "Sure. You like Cosmos?" He stands to mix, then asks Jim why he's here. "Is Josh busy?" Oh dear. "Michael," Jim says, but Michael interrupts him. "I get it! No, no, I totally get it. He made a better paper airplane, Stamford does better in sales...just, I get it. We had some fun. We had some laughs. And that's just..."

Jim sits. "Wait, wait, wait. I didn't transfer because of you." Aw. This is the Jim we know again, the Jim we trust. Not Josh's friend. Our friend. "You're a good boss. You're a great boss." I don't know about that, but the important thing is he says it, because it's what he knows Michael needs to hear.  Still, Michael says, "I'm not better than Josh." Um, let's go with different, not better. Jim tells him, "Michael, it's not about...I transferred because of Pam." There: he said it. And to the one person he always chooses to confide in when it comes to these matters of the heart.

Michael: "Oh my God. You don't even know. She's single now." He looks hopeful on Jim's behalf, but Jim says, "No, I just...I heard something about that. It's just, I kind of put it all on the line. Twice, actually. And she said no. Twice." She did, didn't she? But can't we just forget about all that? Can't we go back and do it over again, and make it turn out right this time? I mean, didn't we almost have it all? Michael tells him he's sorry, then says, "Hey, you know what? I will talk to her." It's cute, the way he believes he's the one who can solve this. Jim tells him that's okay, but Michael is determined to help. "You should at least talk to Roy. I mean, he knows exactly how you're feeling." Jim says, "Yeah. Okay, maybe." You're a good man, Jim Halpert.

They're interrupted by the arrival of Evan from Hammermill, who says, "Are we early?" Yay! I knew I was right about this guy. Michael says, "Hey! No, you know, people have been filtering in and out." He and Jim stand to greet Evan and another rep from Hammermill, who are getting themselves one hell of an endorsement in this episode. Evan asks, "Do you guys work together?" and Jim says, "No, we used to. Now we're friends." Michael: "Best friends." And you kind of believe it for a moment, just because he believes it, and he believes so hard in these things, in loyalty and true love and friendship.

He tells the camera:  "Some people need dozens of friends to say, ‘Hey, look at me, I'm popular.' But not me. I'm very picky. I need three, maybe two. When you meet that someone special, you'll just know. Because a real relationship, it...it can't be forced. It should just come about effortle—lessly." There's just nobody else like him, is there? Thank God.

Tag.

Michael and Dwight are in Michael's room, testing his black light. "Now, would you do the pleasure of hitting the lights, sir?" he tells Dwight. The room goes dark, except for their teeth and nametags, the lampshades, the pillows. And great big splotches of something rat nasty splattered all over the bed and headboard and walls.

Michael: "Whoa. What are all those stains?"
Dwight: "Blood, urine, or semen."
Michael: "Oh, God, I hope it's urine."