"Who is this?" -Dwight"Lecture Circuit" didn't feature anything quite as insanely funny as Angela throwing her cat through the ceiling or the rest of the teaser from the Super Bowl episode, but it was still terrific. (And the above exchange came close to "Save Bandit" levels, proving that Mose is such a great character that he makes me laugh even when he's not in the episode.)
"It's Mose." -Jim
"Mose doesn't even know how to use a phone, so the joke's on you." -Dwight
Often, we'll see an episode split between one largely comic subplot and one that's more emotional, usually with Michael and Dwight in the former and Jim and Pam in the latter. Here, Mindy Kaling cleverly switched up those pairings, so we got Pam aiding Michael's quest for closure with Holly(*), while Jim and Dwight proved to be an incompetent -- and hilarious -- team as the reluctant new heads of the Party Planning Committee.
(*) I don't have high hopes of seeing her next week, unless team "Office" has gotten really good at secret-keeping. Then again, I hadn't heard about Rashida Jones coming back until I saw the ad for this one after "Stress Relief," so maybe they smuggled Amy Ryan onto the set without Ausiello or Kristin or anyone being the wiser.
Both of these combinations have been used to good effect before, like Michael saving the day for Pam at the end of "Business School," or Jim and Dwight teaming up earlier this year to figure out who sandbagged them in the customer surveys, and I think they work so well because it's not an every week thing.
If Jim and Dwight had to work together (as opposed to just trying to drive each other nuts) all the time, it would get old, but seeing their personalities clash while in pursuit of a common goal works as a change of pace now and then. It was particularly funny to see them both so clearly out of their element. Dwight's too literal-minded to be a party decorator -- he buys brown and gray balloons because "They match the carpet," and his banner is the factually-correct but nothing more "It is your birthday." -- and Jim's not as good at massaging all of the branch's egos as he thinks he is, and so of course they're both doomed to failure.
It's also wonderful to see how Pam and Michael's relationship has evolved over the years. I think she does actually like Michael -- or, at least, her pity for him overwhelms her potential hatred -- but she's also less willing than ever to put up with his more obnoxious behavior, and has gotten much better at shutting it down. Their time in the car wasn't as overtly farcical as previous Kaling road trip episodes like "The Injury" or "Branch Wars," but there were a lot of good smaller gags, like the battle over whether to use the radio (Michael can only prepare to "silence or Sam Kinison"), or Pam making it clear that the cameraman knows they're sleeping in separate rooms. The final scene in the car, where Pam indulges Michael's belief that he has to remind her who Holly was -- and where she doesn't even blink as she says, "Perfect boobs. Of course I remember Holly." -- was as sweet as it was funny, because it showed this weird equilibrium boss and receptionist have achieved.
The scenes at the Utica branch, meanwhile, gave Rashida Jones a welcome reprise before she starts duty on "Parks and Recreation." Like Pam, I was happy to get some closure with Karen, to see her and Pam make some level of peace (and to see Michael nearly ruin it by bringing up their "old hatreds"), and also to see that her level of contempt for Michael hasn't abated over time.
What made the lecture scene work was that, while the execution was off the mark, Michael's ideas were sound. He is a great salesman, he does know how to read people in a selling environment, and his mnemonic game, while offensive, did allow him to remember everybody's names. Michael's idiot savant qualities allow us to understand how he survives all those clueless moments, and while Karen was probably right to shut it down -- especially before he brought out the chainsaw -- there was definitely some wisdom to be gleaned in the middle of all the usual inanity.
Some other thoughts:
• I imagine that Andy's subplot will be the one bit of business that won't be continued next week, but it was funny as a C-story to round out this episode. I like how matter-of-factly Andy explained that they lost the account after his failed parking lot seduction.
• In a bit of a callback to "Business School," Michael's still using candy bars as lecture props. I loved how Pam just threw them at the Utica people with no enthusiasm, knowing she had to as Michael's lovely assistant but realizing how poorly it would go over.
• Either Stanley has very quickly given up on his attempt to live a stress-free lifestyle, or this episode was written and produced without anyone knowing if it would air before or after the Super Bowl episode.
• Was the Utica branch always located in nearby Mohawk?
• Creed Bratton, man on fire: first he gives Andy romantic advice that begins with the phrase "This is how I got Squeaky Fromme," then he conveniently has a three-dollar bill on his person (with a picture of Dubya, right?) to help Jim pay for Kelly's party.
• I loved the moment, right before Creed made the Squeaky Fromme comment, when Oscar beat a hasty retreat to avoid having to give Andy dating advice. I guess their bromance was a Canada-only thing.
• So if Angela and Phyllis are ineligible due to past bad deeds, and Jim and Dwight are incompetent, who should be in charge of the Party Planning Committee? Pam and Karen did throw together a rockin' Christmas party a few years ago, so I guess Ms. Beasley, but who else? Oscar? Toby? Kelly?
What did everybody else think?