The Many Loves of Michael Scott

We might never know from whom Michael contracted herpes, or if the unsightly sore on his face was in fact the nasty little disease (although, we can probably trust Meredith’s expert diagnosis).  But what we can surmise is that the unflattering blemish is perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to Michael, because it has put him on a path towards genuine self-reflection and, we can only hope, reconciliation with true love Holly Flax.  Who ever heard of an STD bringing two people closer together?

But that’s exactly what “Sex Ed,” the strongest Office episode in quite some time, might just do; a somewhat innocent call about herpes opens another festering wound, that of Michael’s heart, and we can sense some determination (and even some predetermination) in Michael to win back Holly.

But let’s step back for one second, and consider Michael’s journey.  This episode very much felt like a final season episode (which it is for Steve Carell), as we get to revisit all of Michael’s past loves (or at least all over his partners since the show began): Holly, Jan, Pam’s Mom, realtor Carol and even adulterer Donna.  In many ways this was an episode of This Is Your Life, except instead of being visited by beloved people from his past, it is Michael who does the visiting, and the relationships are fairly more contentious.  Instead of a celebration of a rich, fruitful life, it’s more like a joyless roast (which we have already seen before, but this time the jokes aren’t executed by his friends at Dunder Mifflin), in which Michael is forced to confront his shortcomings, his emotional hangups and his romantic delusions.  Holly tells him early on that he romanticizes things, exaggerates and aggrandizes insignificant events into full on crises, and that’s exactly what he has done throughout the course of this show, and precisely what he does in this episode by turning a cold sore into, as Jan puts it, a post-mortem of his past relationships.

Except that, while Michael is confronted with and recognizes his own issues, he also realizes that some of the women he dated were just, or at least nearly, as crazy as himself, even though he initially recalled their relationships in a much rosier light.  And this leads him to a true epiphany: Holly was different.  Holly was the one.  And with this we were offered one of the strongest, most emotional moments in a long time, as Michael rejects Holly’s assertion that their relationship wasn’t special, leaving her a message stating that in no certain terms that she is wrong.  It’s his Declaration of Dependence.  In a way, this was reminiscent of “Casino Night;” we had the same feeling here as we did when Jim proclaimed his love for Pam, boldly taking a chance, opening himself up to devastation, but refusing to settle for just being friends.  It’s a hold your breath kind of moment, one that has been missed on this show.  And as obstinate and obvious as Michael can be, and usually is, we can’t help but agree with him this time.  Only one of his former flames still laughs (or ever even laughed) at his jokes .  With that alone Holly is exceptionally different.

(and let’s just go ahead and watch Jim bare his soul in the season two finale one more time, because there might not be a better two damn minutes in the history of television.  Asthma-inducing)

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While Michael was out reconnecting (with Dwight by his side, natch), Andy was running a Sex Ed seminar and discussion in the conference room.  This, also, brought back memories of classic Office meetings, like “Diversity Day” and Prison Mike, but with Andy subbing in for Michael (a possible portend of things to come?).  In fact, with Andy leading the meeting it actually felt somehow a little sillier, with Michael’s ignorance replaced by Andy’s earnestness, but that might have been because the subject matter itself was a little broader.  Still, anytime you can get the whole staff in the room, capturing their synergy, it’s usually a good thing (save for when they viciously gang up on Michael or Jim, which is something we’ve seen enough of).  But what we particularly enjoyed about this plot was that is also saw the return of the old angry Andy Bernard, he who punched a hole in the wall in a fit of rage.  Which isn’t to say we want him launching pepperoni pizzas every episode, but he had become some restrained, so vanilla, that he became a parody of  himself.  His momentary weakness here, caused by frustration over losing Erin to Gabe and compounded by a lack of respect from his co-workers, was completely justified and, in fact, welcome, and makes the character more real and endearing.  Plus, it enabled Andy to seek out Daryl’s sage wisdom (“…you will win this in the end, it’s all about heart and character.  Be your best self.”)  And with Michael on his way out, is that perhaps another sign of who might be his replacement?

Our only quibble with this episode would be that, yet again, Pam and Jim were given very little to do besides blend into the ensemble.  Except, “Sex Ed” was strong enough without them, and a gimmicky third subplot about their baby would have just been distracting.  We still maintain that the writers needs to improve Pam and Jim’s storylines, but for one week, at least, we have no complaints.

And finally, a long time ago, in “Casino Night’ incidentally, Michael Scott remarked that he hoped “to someday live in a world where a person could tell a hilarious AIDS joke.”  Well, last night, Steve Carell might have done just that.

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It might, however, be sometime before they can slip in a hysterical Holocaust crack.

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Filed under Analysis, Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, Flashback!, Good Humor, Must See TV

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