I feel foolish for not foreseeing tonight’s big development last week. To be fair, this season hasn’t exactly been competent at handling, remembering, or setting up ongoing plotlines. I saw David Wallace’s reveal that the government bought him out for $20 million more like Charlie Sheen’s horrible cameo in Oliver Stone’s horrible Wall Street II: Money Never Sleeps, a throwaway joke. He got lucky, nothing more to it. I didn’t expect it to be the genesis of a game-changing story arc. But apparently it is, and I guess it’s good that at least something is happening this season. Even if it’s one episode before the season finale, better late than never.
I’ll go more in depth below, but the gist is that Andy wins The Big Client and tries to use that to convince Robert to give him his job back. Robert understandably says no, so Andy pitches David Wallace on buying Dunder Mifflin by claiming that it could be very profitable with good management.
Ignoring my favoritism for Robert and my admitted dislike for Andy, this entire set up seems iffy, even if it was predictable from the first episode this season that Andy would eventually out-business Robert (good guys must win!). A major problem comes down to this concept of management. Who would be the good management? I never got the sense that David Wallace was great at his job. He was competent, I’ll give him that, but I always saw him as representative of the shortsighted executive unable to adjust to modern times. That sounds too harsh. Maybe he was a bit better than that, as he somewhat understood how to deal with Michael and Jan, but he certainly wasn’t exceptional. I’ve criticized Andy throughout the season for his “leadership” abilities, but to his credit, he finally showed that he could be a salesman tonight.
This scenario also fails to take into account that part of the reason why Dunder Mifflin always seems to be dying is that it is a regional paper company that has to compete with national chains. The use and need of paper has died down tremendously over the past decade or so, and paper businesses suffer simply by being paper businesses. It’s an idea the show brought up regularly in its early seasons, and paper was used as a metaphor for the characters themselves- bland and practically obsolete. When Sabre purchased Dunder Mifflin, it wanted to use its salespeople to push its other wares such as exploding printers. Could Dunder Mifflin ever be a worthwhile investment?
These are just some of the actual business issues that Turf War brings up tonight in a way that highlights just how little attention the show has paid to these matters throughout the season. The multitude of examples of this blindness/ignorance add up to one of this year’s biggest issues: the show never decided who was in the “right” and who was in the “wrong.” Is Robert a quirky business genius or a huckster? According to a comment made tonight it seems like the latter, but for most of the year, the show seemed to go the opposite route. Was Jo the better boss? After all, Robert talked her out of her job, and she approved the Sabre Store as well as its dangerous products. Or is Sabre just messed up from top to bottom? If so, at least Dunder Mifflin’s incompetence seemed realistic. And the Scranton branch, itself a mere pawn in the world of high stakes business, has spent most of this season floundering, rudderless, and difficult to root for. At least Turf War makes it seem as though the show is ready to acknowledge these problems.
Ignoring my questions about the overall concept of The Office, tonight’s episode worked for the most part thanks to the ever reliable Robert California and the usually reliable Jim and Dwight: Partners.
While I think the purpose of the episode was to show Robert as some sort of pig by really going overboard with his negative qualities, he’s just too entertaining, offbeat, and different to hate. No matter how “low” he goes, his uniqueness, especially when compared to the tiredness of most of the other characters, gives him an immediate edge. The episode begins with Robert coming into the office after a memory-erasing bender fueled by “Australian reds” and “Colombian whites” (Creed knows what I’m talking about!). During Robert California’s The Hangover, he ended up closing the Binghamton branch without a transition plan leaving many clients up for grabs and the remaining Dunder Mifflin branches hungrily picking over the scraps. Harry Jannerone, a New York salesman played by The Wire and True Blood‘s Chris Bauer, angry over a Pennsylvania group encroaching into his state, even drives down to Scranton to yell at them. Rather than settling this dispute, Robert focuses on a vague comment made by Nellie regarding a voicemail he placed during his dark period and commissions Pam to discover the truth. It leads nowhere except to show Nellie as a sad, pathetic shopaholic unable to adopt a foreign baby.
In Jim and Dwight vs. Frank Sobotka (or Andy Bellefleur, if you’d prefer), the three of them- well a team of two vs. one- compete for Prestige, The Big Client run by Homer Simpson’s voice Dan Castellaneta. Although Andy gets the client, Jim and Dwight are a decent comedy team, and the episode closes with a good scene of Jim, Dwight, and Harry talking shop around a tree. It is here where we learn that Robert is driving Dunder Mifflin and/or Saber (the show doesn’t make it clear which) into the ground, which sets us up for next week’s season finale.
• The string of good, relatable cold opens ends tonight as Dwight and Gabe engage in a manliest man contest, but I was glad to see the return of Dwight’s Gym For Muscles. About halfway through the segment, my screen turned pure white for a couple of seconds, and I wanted to see if anyone else got that or if it was just my service.
• Andy apparently hangs out at the office regularly. It’s just another reason for me to dislike him. When Robert says “Andrew, what do we have to do to get rid of you?” you have to side with the CEO. I also have to imagine setting up a cooking station right by the secretary’s desk is a fire hazard.
• Speaking of weak, I guess we’re supposed to laugh at Nellie being a loser now. I’m okay with that, but it will require more than another not-quite-sad story to make us feel sympathetic towards her. The show also seems to be heading dangerously towards making her into Female Michael Scott.
• Another good element of tonight’s Jim and Dwight storyline was the revelation that they got around the sales quota by developing a fake salesman named Lloyd Gross. One of my favorite elements of their relationship is that, despite their antagonism, they clearly hold themselves above all the other salespeople in the office. In one of his better scenes this season, Toby gets to play Lloyd.
• Runner-Up Moment of the Night: The scene where Robert enlists Pam to find out what he said on Nellie’s voice mail.
• Moment of the Night: Robert’s laugh after hearing Nellie’s mother’s voicemail telling her to keep her chin up, it can’t be as bad as she describes.