How do you make boredom look interesting? That question lies at the center of the modern television age. Movies, as a popular art form, have become nonstop assaults: they still strive for entertainment, but more than that, they try to achieve a state of relentless anti-boredom. That’s not a bad thing. But a television show is a weekly activity. By sheer virtue of repetition, television becomes boring. Most TV shows try to prevent that boredom with cast changes, or plot twists, or surprise romances (Joey and Rachel!). Some TV shows, though, try to mine that boredom for some deeper entertainment value. It’s risky…but the results can be incredible.
That’s a lengthy way to lead into the opening scene of this week’s Office, which was a mini-masterpiece of boredom humor. Pam and Jim were clicking their pens, and Dwight thought he heard Morse Code. Ridiculous, but Jim confided to us that it was true. But then Jim meaningfully tapped his fingers on the keyboard, and Pam meaningfully clipped her binder clip. Dwight heard “detonator.” Michael told him he was crazy. (Is it me, or has Michael gotten more dismissive of Dwight this season?) Dwight put on ear muffs. Pam started meaningfully blinking towards him.
Besides the fact that this was all totally hilarious, it brought home for me something that I’ve been missing a little bit from this season of The Office: the feeling that we’re watching these people try their best to make an essentially uninteresting situation — their jobs — interesting, or at least livable.
The episode was called “The Cover-Up,” and even if it didn’t quite follow through on the promise of that opening scene, it was a good little ditty, and both plot strands seem to be building up for the season finale. Michael was in a good mood, thanks to his new gal pal Donna: “We’re just clicking on every level: emotionally, sexually, and orally.” Michael needed some good ideas for a dating weekend, and he corralled everyone into the conference room. Andy suggested apple orchards, because he’s a romantic. Dwight suggested eel-fishing, because he’s a romantic. Meredith suggested heart-shaped Jacuzzis, because she’s Meredith.
Kelly thought something sounded fishy about Donna. Michael at first refused to believe that she would cheat: “I said ‘I love you’ on the second date.” (Oscar, with the MVP line of the night: “That seems quick. Even for lesbians.”) Ryan, the expert, listed all the ways to tell if someone is cheating on you: “Does she shower before sex? Does she shower after sex?”
Michael was being driven crazy by jealousy. He needed a detective. Dwight offered his services: “$100 a day, plus expenses.” Michael: “I’ll give you $50. Money is no object.” Dwight knew only one way to tell if Donna was cheating: seduce her. I think I saw this movie, and it was called Chloe. Except I didn’t see Chloe, and this was way better. (P.S.: Props to Rainn Wilson, who made his directorial debut with this episode.)
At the gym, Dwight flirted with Donna like an elephant flirts with a giraffe: terribly. “I don’t quit until something tears or pops,” he explained. (Dwight, in case you were wondering, is one of those guys who works out in pants.) Personally, I was kind of hoping for a plan that was a little bit smarter. After all, didn’t Dwight manage to seduce Isabel? Which reminds me, what ever happened to Isabel?
Meanwhile, Michael was spiraling into depression. He was eating his feelings, by which I mean he was eating mayonnaise and black olives. He told Pam that he’d put Dwight on the cheating case: “Otherwise, this whole thing is gonna spiral out of amok.” Pam dropped some truth on her boss: “You have a major self-destructive streak in you.” Michael considered all of his relationships (though, like everyone who watches The Office, he forgot about Pam’s mother.) He had to admit that Pam was right.
Now, I’m not quite so sure. Michael definitely screwed things up with Carol to a ridiculous degree, but Holly got moved by corporate, and there was probably no right way to handle the Jan situation. But I like how Pam has lately declared herself Michael’s protector/therapist. (Sometimes, I wonder if their relationship is the real core of the show.)
But Pam’s no fool. Donna came by the office to chew Michael out. They made up. They made plans. Donna went to get a coke. Kelly cross-examined her, and the look on Pam’s face was a little bit heartbreaking. Some minor Facebook research turned up pictures of Donna smooching another man.
The scene where Pam tried to distract Michael while Donna was in the room was hilarious. Even funnier was Michael’s exit line: “I just remembered that I have to go to the bathroom. Pam.” Turns out that Donna is married, and Michael is the mistress. This plot twist was so unexpected, and such a perfect combination of hilarity and sadness (especially considering what value Michael puts on old-fashioned notions of marriage) that it more than made up for the awkward set-up. (But seriously, why does Donna keep coming to the office?)
I’m more intrigued by the B-plot. Andy discovered that one of his client’s Sabre printers exploded. He notified Gabe, who promised to call HQ. Darryl, seeking vengeance for a two-year-old indirect insult by Andy, got the Nard Dog worried that Sabre would try to silence him. Darryl engaged in some mental warfare, even enlisting Creed.
Creed: “So there I am, minding my own business. Darnell offers me three bucks. All I had to do was walk by Andy’s desk and go like this [slices finger across neck]. Darnell’s a chump. I would’ve done it for anything. I’ve done a lot more for a lot less.”
This all resulted in Darryl filming Andy as he tried to make a printer explode. I think they were filming inside of the old Michael Scott Paper Company HQ. Darryl convinced Andy that he had to talk in a higher voice. Because the camera subtracts five octaves. But shock-twist: the printer actually exploded! That leaves Andy proud and ready to blow the roof off, Insider-style. This smells like corporate malfeasance! I’m a total geek for when The Office actually explores vaguely realistic business issues, and this seems to point toward a larger Sabre showdown in the last couple episodes.
What did you think of “The Cover-Up,” viewers? Does the big twist make you like the Donna plotline more or less? I’m going with “more,” just because it puts Michael in some different relationship territory, but it certainly seems to make the subplot look even more futile. And which was funnier: Pam diving below the window to avoid being seen, or the utter pride in Michael’s voice when he yelled, “I live in a fantasy world!”