While “Gettysburg” didn’t impress me, at least it wasn’t a complete rip-off of earlier episodes like last week’s effort (and I use that word loosely). Actually, I can’t immediately think of any major flaws with “Gettysburg”. The plots moved us past the story thus far concerning the recent restructuring, albeit in a manner that feels more scornful than deserved, and I did laugh during the stories. At this point in the season though, the show just isn’t working hard enough to earn my enthusiasm. While the episode was technically satisfactory, it didn’t carry much momentum. I laughed at some bits but they were funny in the moment, not it any way because of the larger story. It’s almost as if The Office knew we were getting tired of seeing the show harp on something unsuccessfully and so it’s decided to tell us through Jim that it’s giving up trying.
Andy was working hard at being himself but again it was too hard so when everyone eventually bails on him and Andy vents his frustration at Jim, he tells Andy to just stop trying so hard. This episode wasn’t as forced as others this season, but it also didn’t feel effortless. Instead it felt like the plot was performing a chore begrudgingly for the last time. I feel less excited that Andy will stop trying to win over the staff (and the audience) and more annoyed that a) it hasn’t happened yet organically (in terms of the audience) and b) it took this long to get over, or at least address and abandon.
Meanwhile, the subplot that was as thinly veiled as the main one was Robert California’s request for game-changing innovations. I liked Ryan, Stanley, and Pam’s pitches because they all were silly and Robert’s merciless reactions made me laugh. But I found Kevin’s accidentally misleading cookie analogy too stupid to be believable. I know Kevin’s the dumb one, but whereas in the past it felt plausible, it’s just been too over the top recently (although I am curious about one of Kevin’s initial ideas, the “staple marker”). It was clever though in that it again was the show’s not so subtle way of telling the audience that after seven seasons, it’s not going to come up with any revolutionary concepts that will reinvent the show so we better stop expecting it to. The problem is that no one asked it to, the audience simply wants a sense of cohesiveness that plays to the characters’ strengths in funny yet poignant stories that speak to the human condition in terms of being condemned to the privilege of working a job one finds substantially unsatisfying because that’s the great precedent the series set for itself in the past.
Other than the all but direct dismissals of the series’ biggest criticism, “Gettysburg” included an entertaining debate between Dwight and Oscar over the historical significance of the Battle of Schrute Farms and a not so entertaining rendition of the life of Abraham Lincoln by Gabe. I feel surprised Dwight and Oscar haven’t clashed more often considering how confident each is in many of the same areas, such as history, yet possess such opposing ideologies. Their debate over the American Civil War included several good lines such as DPA (deaths per acre) and the revelation that the Battle of Schrute Farms was actually code for a pacifist utopia of artists, dandies, fairies, and the fabulous. Gabe’s reenactment of the life of Abraham Lincoln on the other hand, was devoid of any humor except for the young boy’s initial questioning of his identity, unless you count the “hole in the head” line a reference to when Michael explained that only recently did that joke become funny. Basically I feel like the episode more or less succeeded in minor aspects and didn’t necessarily fail in its larger efforts, but opted out of its greater responsibilities.
Besides the broader misgivings I have about “Gettysburg” I did enjoy the episode opener in which Pam bluffs going into labor (on numerous occasions) and subsequently gets called out and caught faking with a bottle of water. I laughed at Andy’s bi-polar yet polite declaration that anyone who doesn’t join him on his field trip is dead to him, but there would be leftover pesto sandwiches as well as Phyllis’ questioning of whether Daryl’s copy of Limitless (aka, The Man of Many Capabilities) was in fact the one where the guy becomes limitless. I liked the detail of knowing how much it cost Andy to commission the Dunder Mifflin flag ($200), and enjoyed Erin’s utterly indecisive, ever transient yet unflinchingly loyal dedication to whomever truly commanded authority at the moment. I also laughed at Daryl’s appalled reaction to Andy’s flailing about with his flag, “People died here,” as well as his embarrassing admission about how he felt about Andy’s neon pink “DB does GB” hats, “I hate myself.”
Despite the many little achievements the episode made, I can’t help but feel that even though the two bigger plots have provided the audience with some closure regarding the “Andy’s the new boss” arc, they did so as a matter of cold practicality, as if just in case the audience hadn’t yet accepted Andy with open arms, the writers have at least officially stated they’re going to stop focusing on this aspect as opposed to doing so after “The Incentive” when the episode did a better job of earning Andy’s place as manager.
This article was first posted on November 18, 2011