On ''The Office,'' Michael forces his employees to mourn an old boss and a dead bird; meanwhile, Jim and Karen charm each other

By Abby West
Updated October 13, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

”The Office”: Michael plays grief counselor

Cheers to last night’s episode, which restored balance and order to our favorite paper-pushers while still nicely forwarding the storylines of TV’s plainest super-non-couple. Dwight reclaimed his rightful place behind Michael, Pam channeled Jim for some office fun, Jim found substitutes for Pam and Dwight, and Stanley had a banner night all around.

Yes, all is right with the world when Dwight’s evil idiot face is back lurking just over Michael’s shoulder, cackling at his jokes (Michael wasn’t even good at the old staircase gag!), and at the ready for whatever misguided adventure the boss has in mind. Did I really need to know that Fetus Dwight had ”absorbed” his would-be twin? No. But I did howl to hear that he now has ”the strength of a grown man and a little baby.” Machiavellian Dwight is not nearly as much fun as Petulant Dwight. (Sure, buddy. With just two more minutes’ time you totally would have gotten the bird in the soda can…)

It was great to have Michael back to his usual insanity too, going from zero to 100 like the overly emotional madman that he is. Only Michael would feel the need to go from office party promoter to grief counselor in the blink of an eye. Or think that it’s totally unfair to have a day off for Martin Luther King (who didn’t even work in that office) but not have a statue of his newly deceased former boss. Or to be quite so descriptive about his pain (”…somebody else is hitting my soul in the crotch with a frozen sledgehammer…”) What would have made Michael happy that day: ”If I can get them depressed, then I have done my job.”

If this is what a single, footloose and fancy-free Pam brings to the table, I want more. She was priceless tonight, from the spot-on reaction shots to the movie-plotlines-as-my-pain gag she started to the almost-believably tender eulogy she delivered for the singing, er, impressionist bird, complete with the most tricked-out pencil-case coffin you’ve ever seen. And I’m not just saying that because we have an awesome feature with Jenna Fischer in this week’s magazine. (How scary is it that only Kevin and Ryan got that Pam was referencing Million Dollar Baby? Kudos to Ryan for joining in on the joke. And we shouldn’t be surprised that Weekend at Bernie’s is the only one that didn’t fly over Michael’s head.)

How about Roy coming to Pam’s rescue and taking the opportunity to schmooze her? The big lug is trying to figure out how to court her again, and judging from her flirtatiousness out by the car, he might be doing a good job of it. Oooh, I am so going to enjoy the love… square(?) that will happen when Pam, Roy, Jim, and Karen (yes, people, her name is Karen) end up in the same office.

Who can honestly tell me they aren’t enjoying Karen and Jim’s interactions? She’s definitely falling for him, and a sure sign that he might be falling too was his preoccupation with her chips (if that’s what the kids are calling it these days). Jim knew Pam’s favorite treats too, didn’t he? Hmmmm. And look how he gazed at Karen as she spoke in French. (There was also a Canada reference in the online deleted scenes last week.) Now that they’re sharing jokes on other people (the wonderful Ed Helms, who was underutilized tonight), this train has left the station.

My reasons for singling out Stanley (Leslie David Baker) for praise this week are simple: the long-suffering look on his face when Michael kept taking pencils and pens from his desk; his refusal to play Michael’s catch-the-ball-and-share-your-pain game; and — drum roll, please — the awesomely deadpanned ”You have just spit in my face.” Need I say more?

Finally — and I know you thought I forgot! — the Creed-Creep-O-Meter: 5 (even with breaking the decapitation news, this wasn’t too bad a week for him).

So what do you think? Was Pam just being funny, or was she assuaging Michael’s barely hidden fear that he too would die un-mourned? Is Pam just better off on her own? Do we need our Creed just a tad creepier?