“Couple’s Discount” was kind of depressing. Sure, maybe I ought to chalk it up to watching a Valentine’s themed episode while single, but let’s perform Michael’s least favorite activity and take inventory: Daryl stood up for Oscar and human rights advocates everywhere by proclaiming the validity and dignity of same sex couples entitled to the same mani-pedi discounts as traditional couples; Nelly realized she can’t even hold onto a phony boyfriend; Jim and Pam look like they’re barely holding on to their marriage; and although Erin and Pete have finally officially gotten together, Andy was dumped, lost a huge client, and was exposed to David Wallace (but in all fairness he really, really asked for it). So according to my count that makes the score two victories for happiness and three for crushing despair. Don’t get me wrong; misery doesn’t necessarily make for bad story telling – most of civilization’s greatest narratives are tremendously tragic – but the thing about this episode for me is that it left me feeling about as used up and worn out as Clark after his week with Jan, and I don’t think that’s what the episode was aiming for.
Most Office aficionados will concur that the series’ golden years took place during the first three seasons which also were the series’ darkest. However, they weren’t bleak for their own sake, in fact they worked specifically because of the strength of their glimmers of hope: without even considering the Jim and Pam courtship, there was solidarity in Jim’s quest for meaning in his profession; there was hope for Pam to find her voice in a chorus of passivity; and of course Michael eventually transformed from an overbearing creep to the most beloved underdog to grace television screens in years. The inherent optimism of these dire situations was palpable to audiences. The situations in “Couple’s Discount” felt hopeless at best and insignificant at worst.
First let’s examine the uplifting stories. As mentioned, there were really only two as far as I could see. While I will absolutely support any excuse to applaud some discriminatory jerk getting told off, the Daryl/Oscar “victory” consisted of two pretty small snippets of dialogue and can’t even really be considered an actual plot. Instead, it felt more like another example of when The Office packs in a bunch of unnecessary stuff just to kill air time. Regarding Erin and Pete’s “victory”, while I’m glad these two characters will get together – they deserve it – this does leave Andy out in the cold. But as I touched on before, he totally asked for it. I’ve been in more than one instance of doing the long distance relationship thing. It’s damn near impossible to make those blasted things work, but if they’re going to survive you have to put the work in and Andy clearly did not put the work in. We know Ed Helms was off shooting The Hangover 3, but still. Andy was a complete jerk and I’m glad he’s ruined. And I used to love Andy. Sigh.
As for the not so uplifting stories, we again get one superfluous plot that, like Daryl and Oscar’s, does not deserve the title. Instead this “story” consists of essentially one exchange among Nelly, Clark, and the manicurists in which Nelly and the manicurists (those salon employees really took a beating this episode) rudely tell Clark he’s a very pretty girl and in retaliation Clark outs Nelly as single to keep her from getting the discount (yeah, really high stakes here, right?). The gut punch, however, comes from Nelly’s talking head in which she concludes that she can’t even hold onto a fake boyfriend. I don’t know if this was meant to earn a laugh or a sob, but it left me feeling pretty hopeless.
All these stories though pale in comparison to the main course of Jim and Pam’s ongoing train wreck. I’ve generally been pretty impressed with how directly and earnestly the series has been handling this situation, but after this episode I’m starting to wonder how much more Jim, Pam, and their audiences can take. I got the impression that by the end of the episode we were supposed to feel as though because Pam spoke up and voiced her contention that the couple should spend the evening together even if it is just to fight, the couple still has hope, that they each still want to make their marriage work. I get that, but considering what Brian said at lunch about how once he and his wife stopped fighting they realized their relationship was over, I feel as though Jim and Pam’s “put up your dukes” agreement is more of a prolonging of the inevitable rather than fighting for love. I’m probably wrong because no matter what I still don’t think that for one second the series would ever dare to end with Jim and Pam splitting up, but regardless, if they don’t start changing their tune I wonder if we’ll care either way.
Despite all my griping, “Couple’s Discount” did still have a handful of moments which made me laugh: Pete’s apprehension of doing whatever he wants on the last day before Andy’s return; Dwight’s impression of Andy; Kevin’s enjoyment of “chunky lemon milk”; Meredith’s suggestion of booze and cocaine; Pete’s “That’s plenty, Meredith – why don’t you guys ever stop her?”; Stanley’s line about already being sick of Phyllis making for a convincing portrayal of marriage; Dwight’s man who cried genetically engineered monster wolf; and the fact that Erin forgot her and her first grade boyfriend’s twentieth anniversary. Despite these small moments though, ultimately “Couple’s Discount” served more than anything as a reminder that The Office really is on its death bed and really at this point I just want to pull the plug.