Of course they gave Joss Whedon the episode where Jim turns into a vampire. Of course they did, even if it was already written (or at least planned) well before Joss offered to direct, even if they didn't tell Joss about that particular subplot, even if everyone who works on the show does a pinky swear that this is all some brilliant coincidence.
But I'll get back to Undead Jim and Dwight beating on the bat (with a bat? I forget what implement he was using at the end) in a bit. I want to start at the end, with that incredibly sweet scene at the art gallery between Michael and Pam. As Pam's gallery ordeal just got worse and worse -- I think Roy shamelessly trying to use it to get laid was worse than what Oscar's roommate said -- I assumed that Jim would show up to sort of save the day as he always does, only he'd have Karen with him, so it would be bittersweet. Instead, Michael got to be the hero, without even realizing it -- and then almost ruined the moment with a leftover prop from his lecture. (It was both a more poignant and funnier version of the Dwight/Pam scene from "Back from Vacation.")
The writers have done some interesting things with Michael and Pam this year: her directing her bird funeral eulogy at him, her driving him home from the Diwali celebration (after totally shooting down his advances), and now this. Most shows would keep playing the one easy note of Pam being rightfully appalled by Michael, but these writers have the wisdom to know that human being are more complex than that -- even overgrown eight-year-olds like Michael Scott -- and so they can occasionally show Pam feeling protective of Michael, or in this case Pam feeling grateful towards him. And it was so perfect that the drawings he loved were of their office and things in it, because Michael is such a purely literal person. She drew their office -- the be all and end all of Michael's existence -- and she drew it accurately in a photo-realist style. Was there any way he wasn't going to be over the moon for that stuff?
I complained last week that Michael's behavior at the wedding made me uncomfortable, even if it was in character. He made just as big a fool of himself in front of Ryan's class, but this one didn't have me squirming nearly as much, because the stakes were lower. Michael was on the verge of ruining Phyllis' wedding day, a big deal in any woman's life, whereas he wasn't doing any real damage to anyone but himself in that lecture hall. (If anything, Ryan's professor probably gave him extra credit after seeing what Ryan has to deal with in the real business world.) The storyline was evocative of a couple of Brit "Office" plots (David taking over the company seminar, and David the disastrous motivational speaker), but in a good way. Best parts of this plot: Ryan's complete lack of conviction as he said "it would be stupid not to do it, right?" and Michael coming up with a far wiser, fairer and meaner punishment than firing for Ryan.
Now, onto the real reason the great and powerful Joss was so clearly hired: Schrute Vampire Slayer. This was very broad in parts, though no broader than "The Injury" or "The Fight" or "Gay Witch Hunt," and when you have an episode end in genuine tears, I think it's very fair to go broader on the other storyline. Loved how quickly Creed fell into an alliance with Dwight, and how he had stake-sharpening tools at the ready. (I hear Creed Bratton once stabbed a man in Reno just to watch him die.) Loved how seeing Pam back with Roy has Jim finally committing to Karen not only as his girlfriend, but as his prankster sidekick. Loved that, for once, one of Jim's pranks didn't have any real negative repercussions on anyone, including Dwight, but was just a way to amuse himself while engaging Dwight's fantasies about the paranormal. And I loved the garbage bag-errific climax.
And speaking of which, some other thoughts:
- Hey, Meredith got something semi-significant to do! Woo-hoo! I'm biased, because Kate Flannery's really nice and wicked funny in person, but I've felt really bad this season at her minimal screen time compared even to the other second-tier characters. As I wrote in the comments a while back, the problem with Meredith is that her job doesn't automatically put her into contact with the other characters, and her defining characteristic as the office lush doesn't make her a go-to joke machine, the way Stanley's crabbiness or Creed's creepiness can be applied to any situation.
- With Ryan banished to the Chatty Annex, does that mean Jim gets his old desk back? And what will having both of his women in his sightline do for that awkward dynamic?
- At first, I assumed Toby's desire to ditch his daughter's play to go to Pam's show was a continuation of his lame attempt to ask her out earlier this season. Maybe it was that, too, but his line about kids plays and how "what they do is not art" had me rolling -- and crying just a little, since I'm not too far away from having to attend elementary school plays on a regular basis.
- The "write that down"/laptop gag was nicely done, and reminded me for some reason of the bit in "Life of Brian" where Brian tells the mob of worshippers that they all have to think for themselves, and they say, "We have to think for ourselves! Tell us more!"
- "Poop is raining from the ceilings! Poop!"