This is the first episode of The Office since returning from the holiday break (if not since Michael’s departure) that has really made me sit up and pay attention. Sure, Erin and Pete’s flirtation is equal parts adorable and horribly derivative and yes, Dwight’s attempt to keep Daryl happy at Dunder Mifflin seems a bit random as the two have never really shared much screen time together and was much more indicative of Dwight’s probable desire to see Jim return permanently, but for the first time in a very long time I found myself caring about Jim and Pam’s relationship.
The story opens (after a pretty great episode cold open in which Dwight finally discovers a long since forgotten DaVinci Code-esque prank by Jim) with Jim telling the camera how excited he is to go see his daughter’s school show so naturally the audience knows he’s never going to make it to the performance and of course we soon find out he can’t make it due to his new company’s largest investor unexpectedly pulling out. After breaking the news to Pam Jim asks her to record the show taking specific pains to try to make sure Pam definitely knows how to correctly use her phone to record Cici so of course we know she’s going to somehow mess that up and that’s exactly what happened. With such obvious plotting one might think this story would be among the more forgettable ones of the series, but what sells it by the end of the episode is not its fulfillment of expectations, but rather the performances of Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski. The fact that we see their fight coming a mile away and are still genuinely affected by it speaks volumes to the actors’ talents to convey the authenticity of a situation audiences have seen countless times before.
Not only did viewers finally see a gritty argument between the couple (as opposed to the petty, cutesy ones we’ve had to previously sit through), but we also got our first glimpse of Brian, the rarely alluded to head documentarian (I assume) of the series we’ve all been watching for almost nine years. This is obviously an exciting development simply because it’s unprecedented (and because it flaunts its superiority over Modern Family), but I can’t help but be wary of where it may lead for one, possibly insignificant detail – was anyone else bothered that Brian was good-looking? I was because it makes me think he might have been introduced in order to get between Pam and Jim, which would be so wasteful and gross that it would be the final nail in the coffin of my love for The Office. Hopefully I’m jumping the gun but it was something I just couldn’t shake after watching.
No matter how old or trite or clichéd the story of long distance relationships being difficult is, the realities of the situation are always all too fresh for those directly involved (trust me). Both Jim and Pam’s literal and figurative distance has never been more apparent and the series finally feels as authentic and urgent as it did in its prime. The other plots were entertaining enough on their own and did well to balance the drama of the Jim and Pam plot with great little details like Clark’s frank break-down of his computer’s operating system and Toby’s creep-tastic delusional relationship with Nelly, but this episode should definitely be remembered for that last scene with Pam and it deserves to be remembered as an excellent example that a show can always bounce back after hitting bottom.
We are currently seeking TV contributors on WhatCulture. To find out more about the perks of being a TV contributor, click here.