''Branch Closing'' sums up why we love ''The Office'': The prospect of losing their jobs brings out the best at Dunder Mifflin, with Michael and Dwight hitting the road, and Jim uncorking the night's two best lines -- and thinking about a reunion with Pam

By Abby West
November 10, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST
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”The Office”: A ‘close’ call looks like genius

Something weird is going on: What did Jan say?

Oh my goodness. Last night is exactly why we love this show. The succinctly titled ”Branch Closing” episode had almost everything we could want: all the major players in the mix, an unexpected (not-really) twist, a juicy little revelation, and the short-term promise of a Jim/Pam reunion. I know some of you got offended when I called last week’s ”Diwali” a ”workhorse” Office episode, but really that was like giving it an A instead of an A+. It’s necessary to make that distinction just so you can spotlight truly stellar episodes like last night’s.

Let’s start with Michael who crumpled like a wet paper bag after Jan Levinson told him the Scranton branch would be closing and that Josh, the boss in Stamford, had the board’s support. (”It came down to a matter of talent,” she said. Ouch! Despite her protest, I think Jan may have relished telling him the news just a little bit.) Check out the ”producer’s cut” of the show on NBC.com to see some truly cringe-worthy scenes of Michael pleading with Jan and sooo much more great stuff.

It was classic Michael to blurt out the news about the shutdown in the middle of the office, feed everyone’s uncertainty about the future, bust out that insane cry-stifling teeth-baring face, and then tell his employees not to worry about those ”rumors” of a closing once he’d decided to challenge the decision.

It was the perfect move to set up Michael and Dwight for their buddy-movie road trip to confront the CFO, a real return to the subordinate Dwight/needy-tyrant Michael dynamic that everyone loves but that had been just a tad bit soured since Dwight’s failed coup attempt. Rainn Wilson is in his element when Dwight truly gets to be Michael’s right-hand man, tapped for ”backup” or absurdly playing it straight in their role-playing scene.

But I have to say what really cinched this episode for me is the heavy Jim factor. It started off on the best possible footing with his Dwight-from-the-future fax prank. At first I thought his faxing had something to do with Pam but this was just so maliciously masterful that I was glad it didn’t. I have a special place in my heart for the British Office but the Tim/Gareth pranks in that series don’t hold a candle to the ways Jim ridicules Dwight.

By uttering two of my favorite lines of the night (”I always knew the branch would shut down someday, I just figured it would be because Michael sold the building for some magic beans” and ”Say what you will about Michael Scott, but he would never do that”), Jim wonderfully bookended the conflicting emotions Michael inspires. It is way too easy to alternately mock, pity, and then side with Michael. But Jim also showed his own disillusionment with his boss Josh, who Jim had sort of begun to worship. Remember how Jim rode his bike to work to be like him?

The writers did a great job of creating the sense of crisis that resulted in the Scranton branch instead absorbing Stamford (I never trusted that Josh guy) even though fans of the original knew it was going to end up that way.

Karen’s unfiltered confession of being ”kind of into” Jim was refreshing in its departure from Jim and Pam’s habit of sideways looks and swallowed comments. It also sort of raised the bar on the importance of her and Jim working out. She’s moving to Scranton, people! That’s commitment. Pam couldn’t even commit to a kiss.

Roy is still pulling on my heartstrings with his persistent desire to win Pam back. (”Don’t know what you got till it’s gone…” Is it so wrong that I instantly remembered that song? Power ballads rock!) But while Roy was hoping for reconciliation, Ryan was seeing his way out of his relationship with the clingy Kelly. I don’t know who was more disappointed about the branch staying open, Ryan or Stanley. Stanley was almost as happy as on Pretzel Day and I have to say his big old grin was weirding me out.

Back to a Pam pairing that I’m totally in favor of…Phyllis and Pam. Their dishy, girly office friendship is a great layer to the relationships in the office. They really are the two most normal women in the office. And once she got to Scranton, I could totally see Karen and Pam getting along — if they didn’t both have feelings for the same guy.

(BTW: Does anyone remember exactly why Michael hates Toby so much? There was Michael’s whole divorce rant during the grievance-airing episode, but this year he spews such bile at Toby that I feel like I’m forgetting some past slight.)

I know that I forgot the Creed-Creep-O-Meter last week (It totally should have been at about 6 for that Karma Sutra comment alone) but there wasn’t enough Creed (and or Meredith for that matter) in this pivotal, turning-point episode. The online episode takes care of that though, and answers my morbid curiosity about what post-Scranton plans those two freaks were hatching. Creed-Creep-O-Meter for that one is almost up to 8. Trust me.

How quickly upon entering the Scranton office will Karen pick up on the Pam/Jim tension? Will Dwight have more of a problem with the now No. 2 man Jim or Ed Helm’s Stamford-Dwight? Could I be any more excited for next week’s episode? You know the answer to that one.

Jim, Pam, Michael, Dwight and the rest of the Dunder-Mifflin employees hold down the Scranton branch
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