Spoilers for last night's "The Office" coming up just as soon as I give you the chills...
As soon as I realized Michael was going to have sex with Pam's mom in the wedding episode, I started anticipating what the fall-out episode would be like. We had to wait a week (and suffer through an episode I really disliked), but the end product absolutely lived up to, and in some ways surpassed, my expectations.
"The Office" is designed so that Jim and Pam tend to play straight man/woman to everyone else in the office. They get funny asides, but they're primarily there to add a human element to the proceedings, and to help ground broader characters like Michael, Dwight and Kevin. "The Lover," written by the veteran "Office" team of Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (and directed by Eisenberg in what IMDb is saying was his directorial debut, not counting a few "Office" shorts for NBC.com), flipped that around. Jim and Pam were still human, but for once they were the ones having the huge reaction to events, where Michael was relatively buttoned-down. (And when he got more juvenile, it was only to match Pam's level; the threat to "start dating her harder," for instance, only came after Pam ripped into Michael and said she didn't give a s--t about his happiness.)
What a superb episode for both John Krasinski (particularly in his terrified, exasperated initial reaction to the news) and, particularly, Jenna Fischer. Because this isn't a note Fischer gets to play, you could tell she relished it, yet she managed to be loud and disruptive and immature while still seeming like Pamela Morgan Beasley Halpert.
And I loved the way Michael was written (and played by Steve Carell) in this one. As with Stanley's outburst in "Did I Stutter?," he wasn't going to tolerate that kind of overt insubordination from anyone in the office, even his beloved Pam, but he's also afraid of her enough that he had to go get Toby to fight the battle for him. (Poor, pathetic Toby; he actually wanted Michael to be his friend, and was crushed when Michael told him off after the plan didn't work.) And you could see that he was genuinely hurt by the vehemence of Pam's reaction - not only the disgust that it's Michael Scott sleeping with her mom, but the thought that Pam doesn't care about him being happy. Michael, as we know, has few friends in this world - and most tend to be moms - but he thought he could count on Pam and Jim as two of those, and it messed him up, in a funny way, to have them so furious with him.
Much as I loved many parts of "Niagara," this was easily my favorite episode of the season so far, and possibly an "Office" all-timer.
Some other thoughts:
• The Dwight/Jim subplot with the bugged mallard was the perfect contrast to the main plot, because, as Jim points out in the note he writes to the camera crew, Dwight absolutely picked the wrong day to try screwing with him. The opera music added a nice Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd feel to the proceedings, and the payoff - Dwight was actually clever enough to use the mallard as a decoy, but insane enough to want to listen to eight hours of Jim talking about paper stock - was great, in that it gave Dwight some edge back. If Jim can always beat him, and, on top of that, if Jim is now blatantly Dwight's superior, then that relationship is too one-sided to be as funny as it once was. So Dwight needs to "win" every now and then.
• Speaking of Dwight, I didn't like that he was so pumped-up to see Michael do his Blind Guy McSqueezy character (which all the women in Michael's improv class understandably hate). The Michael Scott Paper Company arc seemed to signal a sea change between these two characters, with Dwight no longer hero-worshipping and sucking up to Michael; his reaction in the teaser seemed very much like the Dwight of a few seasons ago.
• The best part of last week's episode turned out to be a deleted subplot (up, as usual, at NBC.com and Hulu) about Erin's struggle to ingratiate herself in an office where everybody loved the previous receptionist. I like that there continues to be this weird tension between her and Pam, and that Erin seems to take Michael more seriously as a boss than Pam ever did.
• Is Creed crying at the aria because he's a musician and can appreciate beautiful music, or because it reminds him of a time when he was locked in solitary for three weeks?
• The "Frankie and Beans" running gag from Jim and Pam's honeymoon was a nice touch. It starts off as one of those inside jokes that's sweet for the people who understand it and obnoxious for those who weren't there, then became Jim's lifeline after Pam found out he knew about Michael and her mom before she did, and finally became funny for them again after Pam had a chance to calm down a little.
• Ryan Howard: Douchiest character in TV history? I feel like the fedora - and, particularly, his refusal to tell anyone where he got it, so that he can continue to be Cool Hat Guy - pushed him over the top, but I'm willing to listen to counter-arguments.
What did everybody else think?