Spoilers for "The Office" coming up just as soon as I go take advice from an ugly scientist...
Hot damn, they're on a roll right now. Every episode since the strike has been brilliant in some way, and all in a different way. We're being shown every facet of the show and its characters, and I am loving every minute of it.
This was the first post-strike episode to take place entirely in the office, and therefore gave nearly everyone (except, as usual, Meredith) something funny to do. And we'll talk about Kelly's Will Smith story, and Kevin again getting too invested in office politics, and Creed's love of jazz in a bit. But what made the episode special was how it provided one of our periodic reminders of how Michael still has his job.
Michael's arrested development third-grade hang-ups prevented him from dealing with the Stanley situation immediately and properly -- Toby, though he turned evil later in the episode, nailed it with the comparison to his daughter not wanting to face the mean girls at school -- and the fake firing was the kind of boneheaded idea he comes up with semi-weekly. (Remember: the pilot episode climaxes with Michael pretending to fire Pam as what he thinks is a hilarious joke.) But after ducking the issue, then getting lots of bad advice from Daryl (more on that below as well), then having the fake firing blow up on him, Michael finally showed some backbone and a bit of self-awareness. He and Stanley reached a detente -- the best they can hope for, really -- and Michael was able to save face with the rest of the staff by getting Stanley's approval at the next staff meeting. (This, in turn, led to the hilarious final joke with Phyllis.) Carell and Leslie David Baker were both very good in a straight dramatic scene, and production did a good job of showing how the documentary crew slipped back into the office to film the private summit.
(Also a nice, subtle touch to show that Michael's not a complete idiot; unlike Andy, he didn't allow himself to be bullied by Dwight's "Do it! Do it!" sales approach, no doubt recognizing how much damage Dwight would perpetrate on the office under the emergency disaster plan.)
Beyond the rare moment of humanity for Michael -- and the rare bit of anger from Stanley -- "Did I Stutter" was just awfully funny in spots. This may have been my favorite Daryl-punking-Michael scene ever, between the reference to "Newsies" and Daryl's explanation of Fluffy Fingers. (And was I the only one waiting for Michael to resort to tickling when the fake firing didn't work?) Craig Robinson is always so marvelous in the way he keeps a straight face as he tells Michael these outrageous lies, and yet still lets you see how much Daryl is enjoying the power he holds over this fool.
Also hilarious: Creed again establishing himself as the office perv in his talking head about jazz; Kevin nearly matching him by revealing his librarian fetish to poor Pam; Michael having Pam translate Kelly's latest inane ramble (and Pam doing it perfectly); Andy and Angela (who now looks absurdly pregnant) playing the worst game of Mad Libs ever; the glee in Kevin's voice as he prepares for the match with the same level of enthusiasm he brought to a potential Five Families gathering; Dwight getting his first measure of revenge against Andy; and Jim's latest fake proposal in the meeting.
Meanwhile, on a slightly more dramatic front, we have the continuation of the Jim/Ryan tension from last week, with Ryan teaming up with Toby (and don't forget, Ryan has had a thing for Pam in the past as well) to put Jim on official notice in his usual d-bag management way. Jim looked mortified at the possibility of being fired from this job that he hates, and since the writers obviously aren't dumb enough to break up PB&J, I'm really interested to see where this is going. Ryan, despite seeming vaguely sober here, is clearly in crash-and-burn mode -- I predict he's going to wind up back in the Scranton branch office by the start of next season, having failed so miserably that no other company would touch him for an executive job or even lower -- so might we see Jim begin taking his career so seriously that he winds up with the New York job, after all? (We know David Wallace loves him.) If the show goes on long enough, will we eventually see every Scranton employee (except, of course, Meredith) wind up in Jan's old office? Or might we see Jim and Pam forced to separate professionally but not personally? Will Jim wind up wearing Dwight's old Staples vest?
I don't know, but I'm looking forward to it. "The Office" has built up an enormous amount of goodwill with me at the moment.
What did everybody else think?