I have one complaint, and only one complaint (and it's less of a complaint than a concern), and I want to get it out of the way immediately, because beyond that, "Goodbye, Toby" was perfection, more than living up to the show's great season finale tradition set by "Casino Night" and "The Job."
So, the complaint/concern: I really, really, really hope the writers aren't going to be foolish enough to try to create real strife in the PB&J relationship over how long it's going to take Jim to propose. That's a stupid conflict, and an artificial one, and is the sort of only delaying the inevitable tactice that's beneath a show that's thus far been so brilliant in the way it's let the old Unresolved Sexual Tension trap play out. But I fully admit that I could be misreading Pam's expression when she told the camera crew that she was surprised Jim didn't propose to her at the carnival.
And if I'm being too alarmist, then so much the better for the already wonderful "Goodbye, Toby."
I've written a few times about how Paul Lieberstein-scripted (or, in this case, co-scripted, with Jen Celotta) episodes tend to be a bit more melancholy and set the characters at a more human scale. Michael is still a bumbler, but he's a recognizable, understandable bumbler. Michael as written by Lieberstein is capable of being charming and insightful (see his review of the "Die Hard" series back in "Money"), which explains how -- with a lot of helpful, restraining advice from Jim -- he was able to hit it off so well with Holly.
(Speaking of Holly, I realize I never noticed her before she played Beadie on "The Wire," but is Amy Ryan entering that rareified territory of always giving a good performance and bringing something interesting to the table? I want to scour her IMDb resume and put the lot of it in my Netflix queue.)
A classic example of the humanized writing was the running gag about Holly believing that Kevin was retarded. Here's something where Kevin behaves the way he always behaves, and Holly behaves in a way that seems appropriate (for her and the situation), and you can see exactly how she'd read their encounters as Kevin being slow while Kevin would read them as Holly wanting to get him in bed. Much as I love "The Office," there are times when the show forces its characters' behavior to extremes in order to get a big laugh. This joke in particular, and the episode in general, found a way to get big laughs while letting everybody be exactly who they are, no more, no less.
There were some cartoony moments featuring the cartoonier characters, like the hysterical talking head with Creed having no idea what his job is ("Choir?... Quabbity?"), or Mose (Mose!) showing up with a non-rabid raccoon, but for the most part, the best jokes were subtler. Take Michael's exit interview with Toby, and the pained inflections in Michael's voice as, with Holly and Pam in the room, he has to ask questions like "Who do you think you are?" and "What gives you the right?" in a way that doesn't make him sound like a hostile, vengeance-seeking ass. That was beautifully set up, between the years of Michael irrationally hating Toby and his newfound bond with the Yoda and Lovitz-quoting Holly.
Or take the relieved and yet happy way Jim says "I'm so glad you didn't," when he finds out that Michael restrained himself from kissing Holly. Jim's coaching of Michael throughout was wonderful. I don't know if it's that, as he's decided to fight for his job at Dunder-Mifflin, he's grown protective of Michael or if, more likely, Pam's protectiveness of Michael when he's at his least boorish has rubbed off on Jim. Either way, I liked the idea of Jim trying to work with Michael's social disorders instead of simply standing back and smirking at the camera crew.
After last week's catastrophe, this episode did such a strong job of rehabilitating Michael -- see him acknowledging that, while Phyllis couldn't find an anti-gravity machine, the ferris wheel was pretty cool in its own right -- that I felt genuinely sorry for him when he discovered Jan was pregnant (just at the moment where he had made a connection with his ideal woman), and even worse when we found out that Jan is so evil she got herself impregnated by a sperm bank while they were still living together. (Question: had Michael and Jan not broken up, do you think she would have tried to pass the kid off as Michael's?) Where I think I would be taking an ax to my television if they tried to insert this kind of complication into PB&J (didn't "Ugly Betty" do some goofy story where Betty's would-be boyfriend is stuck with a girl who's pregnant with a kid that might not be his?), it worked here for a couple of reasons: 1)We've only had an episode to get invested at all in the prospect of Michael and Holly, and 2)We've had it drummed into our heads that Michael is obsessed with having children, and so it feels natural that he would let himself get drawn back into Jan's horrifying web by the prospect of being a dad, even if the sperm belonged to a donor at the bank near the IHOP.
Michael being stuck in the parent trap was one of several outstanding cliffhangers in this one. Among the other questions we're left with:
- Is Toby really gone for good to Costa Rica? I can't imagine Amy Ryan being in this for the long haul, and much as Paul Lieberstein is self-conscious about acting, Toby's too good a foil to Michael for the show to lose long-term. I assumed that, when Pam told the camera guys to not tell Toby that she thought he was cute, they would immediately tell him and he would abandon his surfing dream to hang onto his far more pathetic dream of winning her.
- Is Ryan gone for good from Dunder-Mifflin? We all knew he was heading for a fall. I assumed it would be the cocaine, but I hadn't realized that, when he was ordering the salespeople to enter all their sales as if they had come through the website, he was double-counting those numbers. (I figured he was just making the salespeople look bad to the higher-ups.) Obviously, Jan has stayed in play on the show despite having been fired by the company; might we see Ryan desperately move back in with Kelly while he tries to rehab?
- What will Phyllis do with her newfound knowledge of Angela and naked (brrr...) Dwight? I was not expecting to see that at all, but it was both wickedly funny and something of a callback to Jim catching Angela and Dwight in the act last season. If the rumors are right about Ed Helms being part of the spin-off, I think we know what Andy's reason for leaving Scranton will be.
Best hour-long "Office" ever?