The Alliance

Synopsis: With rumours of downsizing in the air, Dwight asks Jim to form an alliance with him. Jim agrees and uses the opportunity to mess with him. To boost morale Michael decides to celebrate Meredith’s birthday a month early. He obsesses over writing a funny joke in her card, which of course backfires. Then when celebrating his prank with Pam, Jim is touching her a little too familiarly as Roy walks in.

The Good: The Jim and Pam relationship begins to take real shape here. Their banter finally spills over into overt displays of their affection for one another. “She’s so great” he accidentally confides in the camera crew. Then finally as he excitedly tells her of his new prank on Dwight, they end up holding hands. In walks Roy and yells at Jim. After all the silly awkwardness of Meredith’s party this sudden jolt of reality is all the more effective. It establishes Roy as the jealous, aggressive type and exposes Jim to public embarrassment. It feels like a much more “real” moment than the rest of the episode.

Dwight’s gullibility is played very broadly but doubtless it will amuse some. Seeing him clamber out of a cardboard box and dye his hair blonde are fun moments.

Angela (who has strong Christian morals) and Phyllis (who has very low self esteem) get a scene to slowly establish their characters. I suppose Michael’s attempt to boost morale by having a party is a nice idea. Ryan the temp has a great line (after Michael’s disastrous behaviour) where he admits to Toby that it’s his birthday but is adamant that he doesn’t want anyone to know.

The Bad: But the fun is forestalled by how stupidly naïve Dwight comes across throughout the episode. The British Office built its entire structure on characters behaving like real people. Like the annoying people you meet in the real world. Dwight does not come across like that here. He comes across like an American sit com character. He is not believably naïve, he seems fake throughout the episode.

The joke is obvious. Dwight is taking a Hollywood view of industrial espionage (or indeed mimicking Survivor) and applying it to a sleepy paper company whose employees know absolutely nothing that could help him. But it makes Dwight look so stupid as he continues on and on falling for all of Jim’s lies. All of the other characters (excluding Michael who is a special case) are still acting like real people and yet Dwight has already become a television character. That’s not a problem in the long run, but it needed to be better established before focusing a whole episode on his exploits.

Michael has another episode of selfish, mean spirited behaviour. He is becoming joyless to watch as he irritates and humiliates those around him. He orders a cake which he loves and then rubs it in Meredith’s face that she can’t eat it (due to allergies). He obsesses over stealing the thunder of her birthday by writing a joke which will make everyone laugh. Then when no one does he blames them, so he reads another, which doesn’t get a laugh, so he blames it on the internet. In fact his joke mentioned the downsizing, further souring the mood. So in a desperate effort to make them like him again he writes out a big cheque to Oscar’s nephew’s charity.

The whole scene fell flat for me. It felt like the same story as the previous episode, where Michael humiliates himself when he doesn’t have to. He digs his own hole because he is desperate to win love and approval. But the focus of the story wasn’t on Michael, it was on Dwight and Jim. It felt like Michael’s humiliation had to be shoe horned in to the plot and it was already unwelcome enough as it is.

Another false note was Michael donating $25 to Oscar’s nephew’s walkathon without realising that the amount was per mile. It seemed obvious that Michael had made a mistake and I think a reasonable person would have let him reduce his donation. Instead of making Michael look cheap, it made Oscar look unreasonable when he is asking Michael to fork out $450 when no one else had been as remotely generous.

Comic Highlight: Michael tries to get out of his donation to Oscar, or at least undo some of the damage.
M: “How’s your nephew, is he in good shape? How many miles did he do last year?”
O: “Last year he walked eighteen miles.”
M: “Son of a bitch! That is impressive, good for him.”

That’s what I said: A mess. The Office hasn’t quite worked out what it is yet. Is it a sit com, with the trappings of its British counterpart? Or is it trying to go the same route and live on pain, embarrassment and humiliation as its main emotional palette. I actually think going in the sit com direction and telling stories about Dwight being silly is the better option. But this was a half way house and not one or the other.

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