Friday, November 16, 2007

The Office: That's what the stenographer said

Spoilers for the last original episode of "The Office" for a long time (sigh) coming up just as soon as I smack some talk...

In case you weren't aware, "The Deposition" was the last episode completed before production had to shut down because Steve Carell and the other writer-actors refused to cross the WGA picket line. Depending on how long the strike lasts, this could wind up being the (abbreviated) fourth season finale, and while it's not fair to compare it to planned finales (and all-time "Office" classics) "Casino Night" and "The Job," "The Deposition" wasn't a terrible note to go out on for a while, whether it's a few months or into next season.

Like "Money," the Michael bankruptcy episode, this one was sadder and more bittersweet than the average episode, and like last week's "Survivor Man," it started off with Michael making a fool of himself at great length, but ended with him having a rare moment of lucidity. (Or did it? We'll get back to that.)

No amount of coaching by Jan could prevent Michael from being Michael, which even Jan knew, based on her decision to bring Michael's journal to the deposition. I loved the "That's what she said" sequence, maybe even more than the tag of "Survivor Man." It's clear that the writing staff started to challenge each other on creative ways to use Michael's most frequent, tired joke, and they've done a brilliant job in back to back weeks.

I also loved Michael seeing everybody reading his journal in the cafeteria, and especially Toby opening himself up to him and Michael's juvenile reaction. For a second there, I actually thought they'd have a moment of detente because Michael (himself raised in a single-parent household) could appreciate and relate to Toby opening himself up. But for once I preferred a moment of silliness to one of emotional truth; Michael's hatred of Toby is so irrational and overwhelming that, even in this circumstance, his only response is to knock Toby's tray to the floor. (I would feel sorry for Toby, who's like the Charlie Brown of this series, except he got his emotional revenge later when they read the passage about Michael's man-crush on Ryan.)

So here's the question of the week: did Michael side with D-M over Jan for the reasons stated in his final talking head, or because he heard the words "nice guy" in the middle of David Wallace's otherwise completely unflattering deposition? I'm not sure which interpretation I prefer -- Michael once again being wiser than he usually seems, or Michael once again having the maturity of an 8-year-old and desperately wanting people to be his friend -- but I think either (or maybe both) could apply. And the final conversation about getting a cheap dinner -- after Michael had just torpedoed Jan's chance to win $4 million -- was a marvel of sad comic truth. Michael just ruined her lawsuit, but dammit if Jan isn't stuck with (and maybe on) the guy.

The ping-pong subplot was lightweight but amusing, and the first PB&J story in weeks that wasn't in some way about them noticing each other's faults. I loved how, immediately after Kelly explained the difference between trash talk and smack talk and that she exclusively practiced smack talk, the next montage was filled with her talking trash, not smack. And I loved how, when Jim confessed that he was going to play Daryl, Dwight's mind immediately chose a different unflattering interpretation of what just happened ("No, no, no, he works here, dumbass!") rather than the obvious truth. It was a good but not over the top example of Dwight's inability to read social cues.

What did everybody else think? And what are you going to do with your Thursdays at 9 until the strike ends?

26 comments:

MC said...

I didn't love this episode, but it did have its moments, the best being the "That's what she said" exchange at the deposition. And I also love anything and everything to do with Michael's irrational hatred of Toby.

But I thought the Pam/Jim storyline was particularly weak. I usually love Kelly, but the smack talk didn't do much for me. And I missed all the other secondary characters; they are often what make the show for me.

Alex R said...

I was actually very sad about the moment where Michael hit Toby's tray on the floor. I was really hoping they could have 1 nice moment, but alas, yes, his overwhelming Toby hatred won out.

I think Michael hearing the words, "nice guy" was what caused him to support David Wallace over Jan. This is Michael - we love the guy but he aint deep!

Bobman said...

I know it's childish, but Michael slowly pushing Toby's tray onto the floor had me laughing the hardest. Maybe because I expected the cliched sentimental reconciliation; gotta love the Office for defying the norm.

Does anyone know who wrote this episode, btw?

Abbie said...

I guess now I'll actually have to get a life? Outside television and internet forums about television, anyway.

Jesse said...

I dunno, I thought this was one of the weaker episodes of the season, and if the strike does go on, it's a poor episode to end with.

First of all, I found myself liking the ping-pong plot to be much better, and just about everything Kelly said and did. Sometimes, when they focus on a minor character, they really hit paydirt. The little "my man" scene was funny too, since I thought it was going to go cutesy but didn't.

The deposition plot, however, irked me. Michael has been shown to be either over-the-top clueless and/or starved for attention (the wedding) or an idiot savant (the manager meet-n-greet), but they tried to play both here and it was just pitiful. Not the cringe-inducing pitiful that the show does well, but the pitiful that made me want to change the channel. He memorized Jan's speech, but he couldn't stop himself from saying "that's what she said" at a legal deposition? C'mon. One or the other.

Also, the scene with Toby at lunch was horrible. Either have him completely ignore Toby, or antagonize him, but the attempting to bond then acting like a 3-year old (8 sounds too mature) seemed unnecessarily sadistic for someone like Michael. If it had just happened because, say, Toby sat with Michael or there was no exchange between the two, it would have worked perfectly.

So, yeah, not a great episode, a better B-plot than A-plot, and a crappy way to go into hiatus/season finale.

Andrew said...

I thought this was a very good episode-- tending towards the cringiness of the UK Office, but worth it for the "that's what she said" exchange. The other high point was Michael sitting with Toby at lunch with what starts out as a very heartfelt conversation but abruptly ends when Michael's irrational hatred of Toby overwhelms all and he throws the tray off the table. Sure, it may be childish, but that was hilarious.

If there's one thing that defines Michael Scott, is his complete and total loyalty to Dunder-Mifflin, even if that loyalty is not deserved. (And Michael's testimony probably wouldn't have made all that much of a difference in Jan's lawsuit, given that David Wallace and corporate's Toby-equivalent already gave convincing evidence that Jan's behavior became more and more erratic-- so even if he was loyal to Jan over his job probably wouldn't have paid off.)

The ping-pong plot had some great moments-- Kevin's expression changing from befuddlement to excitement upon seeing the makeshift ping-pong table, Dwight rattling off the names of his table tennis heroes, and the Kelly talking head defining smack talk and trash talk.

AMPTP and WGA, please agree on a residual rate for downloads and streaming so that we can have more of The Office!

BGF said...

When I first watched it, it was a kind of unexceptional episode-- nothing I needed to see again. But on reflection, the problem with it was the jarring choices that didn't make sense. Of course, since it was a legal proceeding depicted on television, the deposition would look wrong to a lawyer-- that doesn't usually bother me, but it was very hard to relax and laugh about it when practically everything that shouldn't happen in a depo did. But no need to detail where it departed from reality.

But Pam-- the very first scene she was being taunted I thought, why doesn't she just challenge Kelly?! That seems more Pam-like than identifying herself with Jim. Pam's aggression is generally direct. And then when Pam and Kelly both sucked at ping pong-- "girls suck at sports" is a seriously lame punchline. Kelly must have played some ping pong at some frat parties in college.

And finally, Dwight with the table tennis. Dwight saying that "all" his heroes were table tennis players made no sense. Dwight is the kind of person who has a shelf dedicated to three-bing binders classifying and ranking his heroes in every field in which he takes an interest. It's not unusual to find out that he has another hidden, dorky interest; it just made the whole scene not work for him to say that table tennis was the thing he was most interested in, to the exclusion of every other activity that involves admiration.

Each complaint is kind of minor, I know, and I feel ridiculous for nitpicking. But together it all added up to an unsatisfying episode with a dearth of the show's usual authenticity.

Tom said...

I thought the same thing about "all" of Dwight's heroes being ping pong players. BTW, we're those names he rattled off actual ping pong players? I'm assuming they were but I couldn't remember any of the names in order to check.

Kristin said...

I think there are two camps here, those who prefer Michael being wacky and completely over-the-top and those who prefer seeing Michael toned down and more of a real person.

I fall in the latter group. I always seem to prefer the episodes like this one, where Michael acts more like a real person and has these quiet moments of discovery. So for me, this was a winner.

Sad to have it possibly be the season ending episode. But it does leave Michael & Jan's story hanging for some resolution. The rest of the office-ites? Not so much.

Please Hollywood executives, just give in already. I don't think there is a soul in America who takes your side in this....

Brian said...

"I think Michael hearing the words, "nice guy" was what caused him to support David Wallace over Jan. This is Michael - we love the guy but he aint deep!"

That might be it. Or maybe he realized that while what he has with Jan may not last and that he can move on to another woman, he has probably reached the ceiling of his possible advancement in the business world and that taking one for the corporate team was in best interest, since he'd never have what he has anywhere else. Of course, after reading someone else's description of why he didn't like the episode, and after spending the episode laughing but also texting, I am not entirely sure of the reasons why Jan lost her lawsuit.

And yes, the ways that the writers keep finding new ways to tell the same jokes is great. I know it's a controversial and a sometimes wrong thing to say, but even if the writing doesn't succeed, there's such effort put into it that you can't help but respect what they are trying to do.

Scott Tobias said...

Aside from maybe "Money," the last of the four hour-long episodes, I think this may be my favorite one of the season. The deposition material carried a darker tone more reminiscent of the British Office than the American one, and yet it's so particular and incisive about the Michael Scott character. The riff on "That's what she said" was a great piece of wordplay-- shades of the "who"/"whom" argument in the conference room-- but it proved to be an even better forum for exploring Michael's loyalties and fragile, child-like psyche. Hearing passages from the company documents during the deposition broke through that wall of willful obliviousness that makes Michael believe that he's a good boss, a good company man, and a desirable mate, someone whose loyalties will be reciprocated by Dunder-Mifflin and Jan. When it becomes plain at various points that neither respect him, he latches onto the one scrap of testimony that puts him a good light. Just painful, painful television, in a hurts-so-good sort of way.

And the ping-pong B-plot was a nice relief. Gotta try out that "spin serve" next time I'm at a table.

LA said...

This was easily my favorite episode of the season, but I see I may be in the minority.

I, too, laughed out loud when Michael pushed Toby's tray to the floor. I think it's because I was startled. I actually thought M was going to ease up on his Toby-hate.

I think the new "sassy Kelly" is a scream. And whether it's smack or trash, I hope she keeps talking and talking and talking...

Vic said...

Next Thursday, I'll be giving thanks that I got to see that hysterical Mose/Dwight ping-pong battle royale before the interminable, Office-free winter began...

Anonymous said...

Anyone else think that when they read Jan's review that Michael was a poor manager and that she recommended he go back into sales, that Michael was going to say that he agreed?

I thought he was going to state he wasn't offended by the review, that he should go back into sales because he's a great salesperson. It would have been easy "out" for him during the deposition.

J said...

Link to reference to one of the players Dwight mentioned; see next to last paragraph;

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/1999/453/sp3.htm

Bruce Reid said...

While Micheal pushing Toby's lunch to the floor was juvenile, it wasn't just founded on irrational hatred; he was using the tray to push Toby's copy of Michael's diary off the table. And yeah, having somebody look up from reading your private journal to attempt a bit of "I've been there, brother" commiseration deserves a little comeuppance, I think.

Michael's final talking head, unintentional pun and all, is a sign of his starving for attention. He's always known that he can't count on the company as a friend, but it's the closest he's ever gotten.

The ping-pong plot was fine for what it was, and almost reached brilliance when Dwight mistook Jim's motivations, flipping his paddle to the table with magnificent hauteur.

While not ideal, the episode seems such a good setup for a hiatus--offering up no cliffhangers but a nice, low-key presentation of the potential crisis in Michael and Jan's relationship--that I wonder if the writers planned on it as the last episode in case of a strike.

Bobman: "Does anyone know who wrote this episode, btw?"

Lester Lewis, with his first script for the series according to IMDB.

Robin said...

I loved this episode. Michael once again showed that he's a real human being, and not just a caricature (which was what I hated about scenes like him kidnapping the pizza boy).

Best line of the night-

Kelly: "Your mama's so fat, she could eat the internet." But maybe that just means I'm 12 too.

lungfish said...

I thought it was a great episode.

Loved the entire "That's what she said" exchange, right down to Michael chiding the stenographer for butchering the delivery.

I googled the one table tennis name I could remember, and Wang Tao is inded a ping pong superstar.

Also, can anyone else tell that Pam was bedridden a while from her back injury? She actually looks better to me- it's something I noticed for a few episodes.

Number Five said...

I'm going to miss this show so much...it's amazing how much it makes you laugh and also puts you through a bigger emotional wringer than most dramas.

I agree that it felt like Money in that the main plot was less laugh out loud funny but darker and more incisive. It was brutal watching Michael witness his illusions about about his relationships with Jan and Dunder Mifflin crumble before his eyes. And the scenes of them at lunch and in the car at the end seemed to be both optimistic (overcoming obstacles to stay together, depth of relationship) and depressing (inability to really change, how screwed up relationships can be).

Finally, while Michael's motives seemed to be a mix of both reasons discussed, I agree with Andrew that his testimony likely didn't make a difference either way. That's my only complaint, that as funny as all the scenes were, it didn't seem like a lot of the details would really affect the case either way, other than Jan's general credibility. Oh and lost in the midst of everything else, wasn't that the first time Jan found out about the Jamaican photo? As always, great continuity.

The B plot was light but funny. I've really liked how they've depicted Jim and Pam as a great but not perfect couple so far, and it was a very sweet moment when he asked her if she basically wanted him to defend her honor by winning at ping pong and then said, bring me a player. And I loved Pam's usual ingenuity in setting up practice for Jim.

Anonymous said...

First time posting:
Jan couldn't have officially lost her lawsuit because it hasn't gone to trial, they were at the information-gathering stage, but I agree that there isn't any plausible way for her to win it now because the deposition didn't turn out in her favor. But they could do a story where D-M does give Jan some money (nowhere near $4 million, but probably more than Michael could make for the rest of the year) because the cost of going to trial and winning would be higher for the company than just doing a mild payout. In any case, this was a terrific episode even if it wasn't an all-out laugh riot, and I agree with an earlier poster: I miss the show already.

TuckPendleton said...

"Line." Man, the perfect capper. Brilliant.

And I look forward to the future episode when we see Dwight's room with the poster of the ping player he mentioned.

I thought this show was pretty spectacular. I'm not sure what show Jesse and some of the negative commenters have been watching, but this episode felt very true to form, and I thought a nice way to show what happens when Michael leaves his Scranton bubble and bumps up against the real world. It was funny and painful and said, all things we expected to happen. It had a very "country mouse goes to the city" feel to it, and when all else fails, he resorts to his default behavior and lines.

The British version (and even the best American comedies) aren't afraid to dip their toes into dramatic waters now and then, and that final scene between Michael and Jan in the car was funny, painful, and I suspect a real mirror of many, many modern day relationships where people are stuck with the other.

If this is the last episode for a while, I'm glad to have seen it.

Mich said...

I thought this episode was exceptional enough to be Steve Carrell's Emmy submission (if we have them this year...) His nonverbal reactions were Ah-mazing.

Anthony Foglia said...

lungfish wrote, "Also, can anyone else tell that Pam was bedridden a while from her back injury? She actually looks better to me- it's something I noticed for a few episodes."

I noticed it too, and I agree she looks even better.

Line of the night, "Can you make that 11 [copies]?"

Stef said...

When the episode first ended, I thought "what a disappointment!" I didn't like that this was the one we have to go on for months, and I thought the previous week's Survivor Man/Jim turning into Michael ep was far superior. But the more I think about it, the more good stuff I remember from this one. I particularly loved Toby cracking up over "the other woman" Ryan in Michael's diary. I'm really sad that we will have nothing new for so long, so I'll have to come back and revisit all these scenes in my fond memories.

John said...

Re: Michael's Moment of Insight

I'm leaning toward a little of both sides on this one. I think, if just for a moment, that Michael realized that Dave Wallace's "Nice Guy" comment, however inconsequential, was more sincere then anything Jan had expressed to him.

Jan is using Michael, plain and simple. Something about their relationship makes her feel like the superior one, and she feeds off that to nurse her wounded ego. If Michael can ever rid himself of her (as he almost did last season), it'll be his biggest milestone so far toward maturity.

Lance Quagmire said...

"He works here, dumbass," followed by Jim's "... right." reminded me of "That 70's Show" for some reason.