I was very impressed with “The Boat” because it managed to take two ongoing plots that I’ve been less than an ardent fan of and made each of them successfully entertaining though for different reasons.
The episode’s opener found Oscar taking the initiative on acknowledging the elephant in the room of the documentary crew finally catching he and Angela’s husband, Robert Lipton, The [State] Senator, embraced in a passionate kiss (despite Oscar’s reptilian Halloween costume). In confessing to the camera and asking for the crew’s discretion, Kevin sheepishly appears from the alley eating ice-cream and having heard Oscar’s confession. Oscar’s sole response of, “Why?” before the scene cut to the opening credits was pretty funny, but this cold open was more about establishing one of the episode’s main conflicts, Oscar trying to keep a lid on his affair despite Kevin’s notorious inability to keep a secret.
During the credits I had mixed feelings about knowing there was going to be focus on this story. On one hand there’s the promise of finally seeing some kind of progress with this plot, but on the other hand, there’s the fact that this plot has been dragged out since last season and I have not once found it as a sufficient source of humor or entertainment. Maybe it’s just me, but despite kind of hating Angela (really the values and beliefs she represents), the affair between her husband and Oscar has been nothing but tragic at best and a boring waste of time at worst. It didn’t necessarily have to be, but the writers haven’t made any good use of this premise at all. “The Boat”, however, finally found a means by which to use the situation as a backdrop for some genuine laughs. I’m among those who feel that the gradual dumbing down of Kevin hasn’t always yielded the best results, but this time around I found myself authentically invested in the situation and entertained by Oscar’s desperation to contain Kevin’s stupidity. Maybe the show has simply worn me down on the issue of Kevin’s relative intelligence, but bits like Kevin’s tendency to regularly run out of a room abruptly while yelling, “I have to go to the bathroom,” his admittance of not being able to contain himself while Angela discussed Robert’s stress due to “the man he’s up against [being] so dirty,” and his “pushing back as hard as he can,” and wanting to bring in “a little Mexican,” and Kevin suddenly joining Dwight in his underwear in the break room, were all hilarious to me, the last one mentioned in particular was a great gag because of how sudden and unexpected its appearance was in the background.
Oscar’s plot to remove Kevin from the equation by forging some numbers which implicated Kevin in what appeared to be a potential money laundering scandal yielded the strange revelation that apparently Toby feels he might have sent an innocent man to prison while he was on jury duty for the Scranton Strangler case. This was a bit of a curve ball but I welcome a return to more macabre humor on this show with open arms and Paul Lieberstein has always been quite talented at making this work.
Ultimately the story was resolved for the time being as Kevin actually took an opportunity to come through for Oscar by covering up Oscar’s obvious discomfort at being touched on the shoulder by Robert when he visits the office. Naturally this turns out to be an accident as Kevin simply forgot about the whole affair for a minute. Whereas this might’ve bothered me in the past, I’ve come to accept Kevin’s absurdly selective bouts of intelligence and just went with it. His line where while cracking up with laughter he says that Angela’s life is “a complete sham” actually worked for me because it finally highlighted the gravity of the situation, but did so with a smile, something that has been apparently impossible to achieve up till now.
The other story that unexpectedly worked for me in this episode was that of Andy’s crumbling family fortune. Just introduced at the end of the last episode, I wasn’t excited to watch this plot unfold as the woes of the wealthy are simply not something I can get behind. However, in “The Boat” Andy’s familial troubles were transformed from being framed in a financial context to a deeply personal one. The plot had a few comedic moments like when Erin wore fake teeth to try and make Andy laugh, the boat rigger smacking Andy’s hand whenever he attempted to raise the sail, or Andy attempting to buy the man’s “sweet sailor sweater”, but was largely a dramatic story that very competently explored the underlying feelings which inform why this recent family melt-down has been so trying. It contributes to making Andy’s sudden impulse to sail the boat to Bermuda himself seem less unrealistic, but no less wise than when he took a week off to drive to Florida to win back Erin – and subsequently lost his job to Nelly. The story accomplished this quite well thanks to some truly moving support from Erin and also managed to incorporate the other big seasonal arc of pairing newcomer Pete and Erin as the new Jim and Pam. If I’m not mistaken they even gave Pete some messier hair.
But the effort to recall early seasons Jim and Pam go way beyond the superficial. Unlike when the series attempted to do this with Andy and Erin, which almost always felt forced and lacking in any real urgency, the dynamic between Pete and Erin, while new, is genuinely evocative of that great forbidden romance which first captivated fans seven and a half years ago.
Speaking of the not so golden couple, I was very relieved to not have to wade through the murky waters which have been the flawed seasonal arc of Jim and Pam experiencing some issues. I haven’t felt any compulsion to watch this plot so seeing the two get on so well while pulling an amazing prank on Dwight with Daryl and Nelly was a real pleasure; plus the gag of tricking Dwight into thinking he was being interviewed by a local business minded radio show host and getting him to both strip down to his underwear and call Dunder Mifflin CEO David Wallace to try and get him to relinquish his nonexistent postal worker hostage was pretty priceless. This really was a great bit all around. I loved Nelly’s American accent, Pam’s safety commission head’s accusation of toxic paper, and especially Jim’s obvious impulse to scoop Daryl’s part in the rouse. The sequence worked well to further endear Nelly to the audience and served as an excellent comedic balance to the more serious story of Andy’s inner demons.
I was very satisfied with “The Boat”. It showed how well the show can work when it doesn’t try to cram every character in and I’m glad that Greg Daniels and the writers appear to be very serious about making this last season count. The recent news that apparently Dwight won’t be getting his own spin-off has brought a greater sense of finality to this season of The Office and considering how well its performed thus far, I’m feeling pretty confident this might actually come close to making up for not ending the series when Michael left in season seven.