Three cheers to "The Office" for getting back on track, abandoning the tired formulaics of the first stretch of the season with an episode full of nuance, unpredictability and – most importantly – humor.
Robert California is selling his mansion now that he's divorcing the "beautiful demon" that was his wife, and takes Kevin up on his spontaneous suggestion that the Sabre CEO throw a last-hurrah pool party to send the house out on a high note. The entire office is, of course, very much into the idea, though Jim preemptively boasts how good he is at leaving events early. So good, in fact, that he's developed a systematic method for low-impact early departures (“I don’t mean to brag, but New Year’s Eve…I was home by nine.”).
Ever the difficult one, Robert recruits the men into a lengthy tour of the place, lamenting how little he'd used the luxurious estate's many amenities – including a massive wine cellar, which he invites each man to take a bottle of for themselves. Interestingly, Toby and Oscar develop a new bond over a shared enthusiasm, though Toby truly has no idea what he's getting himself into. Is there a symbolism at play here? It's too early to tell, but they made trying to find out fun.
Meanwhile, we finally see a furthering of the mysterious Jessica/Andy/Erin plotline, specifically whether he is, in fact, over his ex. Erin has learned that Andy followed her home after the Christmas party, so in her mind he's still in love with her. He throws cold signals when she approaches him at Roberts, however, so Erin decides to make him jealous – always the best way to make a man want you, right?
Ironically, she chooses Dwight – the same guy who lured Angela away from Andy. An epic chicken-fight scene unfolds in the pool with Erin so psychotically dedicated that she works Dwight until he passes out, requiring resuscitation. Erin's ruse doesn't work, however, as Andy's almost complete lack of interest in her has plenty to do with the fact that he's carrying around an engagement ring – contemplating giving it to Jessica, apparently – and it's gone missing. So what if the central stone wasn't there when it was passed down to him ("Mom thought that was more of a 'little brother' thing.")? What matters is the symbolism of its representation, and in his desperation to locate the heirloom tunes out a woman who's showing herself to be deeply in love with him.
Kelly finds the ring, and through conversation with Phyllis decides to destroy it to eliminate the bad energy they're convinced tore apart the Californias. As is customary when destroying any ring (you all saw Lord of The Rings, I trust), they set the ring on top of a paper boat and cast it off into the pool, lighting it on fire as it floated. There, destroyed.
Oh, and there's also the tiny sub-plots: the problem of Darryl being shy to take his shirt off in front of Val, and Kathy the temp is clearly into Jim. Both are entertaining in their own right, but Darryl finally getting in the pool meant enough to Val that we'll definitely see a further connect growing there. Kathy, however, is playing with serious fire. We'll just leave it at that for now.
Eventually, Robert awakens to the fact that the party he's been complaining that he always wanted is happening right before him. Exhilarated, he jumps naked into the pool, followed by the sickeningly supplicat Ryan and Gabe. With that, Jim finally makes his escape. Side note on that, however – after swigging from an open bottle of wine through most of the episode, Jim recklessly blasts out of Robert's driveway as he leaves, swerving all around. The implication seemed to be that he was urgently maneuvering just get back home as quickly as possible, but the alcohol factor was a lazy step on the writers' parts.
Moments after his departure, an underwater Erin surfaces in front of a distressed Andy, holding the engagement ring. She offers it back, and his gratitude unfortunately doesn't open his eyes to the fact that the crazy Irish broad who just found his family heirloom is the one most likely to deserve the thing the most.
Whatever the case, "The Office" was firing on all pistons Thursday night, and it's exciting to be able to regain some enthusiasm for a show that's been struggling to find itself since the departure of Steve Carell. The final scene in the entire episode was by far the most disturbing, but also the most entertaining: Gabe, Ryan and Robert, all in robes, dancing in a darkened strobe-lit room to terrible music. Danger looms in the air, like some unspoken homoerotic frenzy waiting to take hold. Robert collapses on the chair and insists that the two groveling sycophants keep dancing. Terribly weirded out but refusing to quit before the other, Gabe and Ryan continue their awkward dance as the show ends. Glorious.
CraveOnline Rating:10 out of 10