Riding the Bus with Michael Scott: Brief Thoughts on Last Week’s ‘The Office’

Well the good vibes had to end at some point, and after a string of strong and then stronger episodes, that run ended rather abruptly with last week’s episode, “Christening.”  We actually don’t have too much to say about it, which is to expected since it aired a week ago, but also because it was a rather forgettable episode.

And it didn’t have to be, that’s what was so frustrating about it.

Breaking away from the silliness that plagued last season and the early part of this one, the most recent episodes, like “The Sting” and “Costume Contest,” refocused on the integrity of the characters, as Michael, Andy and Daryl all began to question their places in both Dunder Mifflin and in life.  So to see Michael in church, having somewhat of a religious awakening, made some degree of sense.

But his subsequent decision to board a bus of gung-ho Jesus loving twenty-somethings on their way to Mexico for three months to build a school was harder to swallow.  Because it didn’t connect to anything inherent in Michael Scott, any internal conflict bubbling just below or completely onto the surface.  It was a completely whimsical, foolish, capricious decision, owing to Michael’s propensity for spontaneous folly more than a reaction his loneliness.  At this point in the run of the show, especially with Steve Carell’s impending departure, his actions should relate to his emotions and insecurities in a clear way, and not just because he can be an impetuous twit.  Yes, Michael craves friendship and belonging, but he should be exhibiting more real behavior than jumping on a bus to Mexico, disregarding any consequences of abandoning his job and responsibilities (if he has any) for 12 weeks.  It was a crisis of conscience that led to a very immature, illogical decision that was too much for even Michael Scott this late in the show.

Even more confounding was Andy’s decision to join Michael on the bus.  Had this been back in season three when Andy was jockeying for the position of Michael’s best friend then that kind of move would have seemed, if not rational, understandable.  But that’s not the case anymore.  Now he’s trying to win back Erin, and even though she said she wished “she had a job she could just leave,” Andy’s last-minute hop onto the bus felt hallow, forced.  Also, two weeks ago Andy began to question the course of his life, how he was the a capella star at Cornell and now he’s stuck at a middling paper company, so while a dramatic choice would not be unwelcome, this one seemed too convenient, and too ridiculous.  And if Erin respects a silly, irresponsible, myopic move like dropping everything and going to Mexico for a quarter of a year, then perhaps that’s not the right woman for Andy at this point in his life.

What also worked against that storyline is how they painted the missionary group, and even the church in general.  The young, cheerful volunteers were portrayed as cult-like, too smiley and sanguine and singular of mind.  Ryan makes mention of this when he mocks Michael about drinking the “Kool-Aid.”  There’s a line between righteous and creepy, and the kids were on the wrong side of that line.  It was interesting that they presented the Christian group, and by extension the church, in this way.  Not that we follow or even agree with the church, but it was surprising that they chose to, and were allowed to take this perspective.  And had they granted the missionary group a little more respect, Michael and Andy’s decision to join the ranks might not have seen so absurd, so flippant.

Back at the church the B story with Pam and Jim didn’t fare any better.  Reunited after a few episodes apart, The Office showed that once again they’re often at their weakest when focusing on Pam and Jim as parents.  Not that they should avoid this – in fact, we were happy to see that Cece’s Christening was highlighted, instead of a milestone that was ignored – but they need to come up with better, deeper material than Jim gets peed on and  loses the  baby.  That’s trite sitcom stuff and this show has proved it can do better than that.

So in a vacuum “Christening” wasn’t a terrible episode, but it halted important progress, and fumbled an opportunity to continue the engaging emotional excavations from the prior episodes.  Let’s hope that this was, much like Michael and Andy’s abbreviated bus trip, just a short detour.

And MVP, yet again, to Darryl, who continues to make a case for this as “The Season of Darryl” and possibly laying the groundwork for an ascendancy to Dunder Mifflin branch manager.  We think it’s a superb idea.

Oh, and this was pretty brilliant:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Oh, and about that title.

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Filed under Analysis, Bad Humor, Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam, Must See TV

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