By Darren Franich
Updated March 12, 2010 at 08:01 AM EST
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  • NBC

Image Credit: Justin Lubin/NBCAs if to counterbalance last week’s epoch-shifting Halpert birth, this week’s episode of The Office felt straightforward and old-school. There was awkward coworker flirtation, there was barely repressed Office/Warehouse racial tension, and there was vintage Dwight vs. Jim mental warfare. We even got a brief appearance by Todd Packer, the Pac-Man, last seen years ago in the episode with Fake Ben Franklin.

St. Patrick’s Day, Michael reminded us, is “the closest that the Irish will ever get to Christmas.” It’s also the closest thing America has to a real holiday, in the long gray winter between Washington’s Birthday and Memorial Day. (The Super Bowl doesn’t count because it’s on a Sunday; Easter doesn’t count because bunnies are lame.) Meredith was excited: “No hassles, no problems, no kids.” Kevin was just wearing a whole lot of wonderful, awful green clothes.

Jim returned to the office from paternity leave to discover that Dwight had shifted the desk arrangement. He had created a command center. He called it Megadesk, which needs to be on a T-shirt yesterday. Megadesk has three quadrants: “Surveillance, gaming, business.” Jim quickly destroyed the business quadrant. Dwight was like a junkie: “I’m hooked on Megadesk.” A counterattack was required. Dwight laid a metaphor on our heads, explaining that John Donne was wrong about the whole no-man-is-an-island thing: “I’m an island… about to erupt with the molten lava of strategy.”

I really enjoy how Dwight and Jim have slowly switched places: now, Jim is the dutiful employee, and Dwight is the scheming prankster. The difference, of course, is that Jim prodded Dwight out of boredom. Dwight’s pranks have a deeper purpose: the destruction of Jim Halpert.

And in that sense, Dwight’s choice of mental warfare was brilliant. Sensing that Jim had some new-father anxieties, Dwight explained that he hadn’t seen his father until he was 2. “I thought my mother was my father, and I thought my wet nurse was my mother.” As a kicker, he played “Cat’s in the Cradle,” the classic male weepie about emotionally distant fatherhood.

Meanwhile, Michael was doing his best to cozy up to Jo. He tried for folksy charm: “Good morning, Honeypile!” (Best non sequitur of the night?) She threw some genuine folksy charm back, suggesting in a vaguely unserious way that Michael should come visit her in Florida sometime. Of course, as we all know, you can’t make an empty gesture to a Funkhouser, and you can’t make any kind of social gesture to Michael without making him think that he’s just made his new best friend forever.

When Jo called a full-staff meeting, Michael whispered in her ear a brief character bio whenever someone else spoke up. “Oscar: Homosexual accountant.” When I saw all the warehouse people in the office, I wrote down on my note pad, “Love Love Love Love seeing warehouse people in the office.” So imagine my pleasure when Darryl made a good suggestion about shipping printers, and Jo suggested he hop into Jim’s old office.

How did you feel about this change-up, viewers? Especially coming so soon after the conclusion of the Great Co-Manager Experiment, I guess there could be some feelings of plot-character whiplash. But The Office has always been pretty good about shifting characters up, down, and round and round the executive food chain (even if they always end up back at square one). Personally, I dug seeing Darryl up in the main office. Craig Robinson is a genius. And, with Hot Tub Time Machine, he might very well be two seconds away from an Ed Helms Breakout Moment.

No sooner had Darryl settled into his office, humming “Movin’ On Up,” than Michael came to him for some wisdom. Michael was confused: Jo didn’t seem very excited about the fact that he had already purchased several flights to Florida for a visit. His public berating was uncomfortable, to say the least. Quick, viewers, what was the most inappropriate thing Michael said to/about Darryl last night:

  1. Describing him as “Smart… for warehouse.”
  2. “Real Hoop Dreams story you got here.”
  3. “Does her family owe your family something? In terms of past injustice?”

The latter half of the episode focused on a minor standoff in the office: Everyone wanted to go out and party for St. Patrick’s Day, but Jo had her all-nighter workface on. Kevin voiced what everyone was thinking: “People in this office have lives. Oscar has a life. I think Ryan has a life.” The Pac-Man was calling in from the bar, promising fat chicks who would definitely sleep with anyone. But Jo would not move.

It’s interesting. Jo’s role in the show so far is superficially similar to last season’s Charles (Idris Elba): they both keep people in the office on their toes. The difference, I think, is that Charles seemed just a tad too realistic for the Officeverse: at a certain point, he could only stare at everyone in Dunder Mifflin Scranton and say, “You’re all a bunch of sitcom characters.”

Jo actually feels like an outsized character – a strange but wonderful combination of southern trophy wife and ruthless type-A CEO. The only two ways for a woman to get ahead, she reminded us, were “working hard or marrying rich. And I did both!” Everyone finally got to leave after Michael had a low-key symbolic showdown with Jo. I’m pretty excited to see more of her; what do you think, viewers?

Lastly, it was one foot forward and two steps back in the Andy-Erin relationship. It was the night of their first date, but Erin got sent home sick by Say-It-Ain’t-So Jo. Andy faked his own illness, and showed up on her doorstep. Erin: “I’m in my jammy jams!” Andy: “I’m in my worky works!” They were watching TV. It was cute.

Then in walked a new plot complication character named Reed, Erin’s foster brother. “We were in the same house from ages 10-12 and 15-18,” Erin explained, laying a whole lot of knowledge which we can all agree could have probably been saved for a third date. Reed acted eerily fraternal (“This big dork and her smelly feet”) and took Andy’s spot next to Erin. I was trying to figure out who Reed reminded me of, and then I remembered.

Despite the interruption, Andy and Erin shared the night’s Awww moment: a nice little kiss on the cheek. Awkward crushes everywhere, rejoice!

Other Very Important Things:

–We learned a whole lot about Erin last night. She claimed to have never been sick, except for once when she was in the hospital from ages 2 through 6. She also grew up in foster care. I feel like we’ve heard more about her personal history than half the characters on the show.

–Andy’s reference to How I Met Your Mother was hilarious: a nice little tip of the hat from one great sitcom to another.

–Darryl, you’ve changed. Your shirt’s all tucked in.

–Gabe dreams of a time when he can have a girlfriend, and won’t have to go to Amsterdam seven times a year.

–Michael gave Jo a lump of coal to remember Scranton by: “Many buildings here in Scranton are powered by coal.” Do you ever get the feeling that, in the Officeverse, Scranton is a weird and hellish allegorical American town, somewhere north of Grover’s Corners and south of Dogville?

–Dunder Mifflin can now sell you printers and toner, along with paper.

–Sabre’s diversity program is called “Print in All Colors.”

What did you think of the episode, viewers? Did “Hooked on Megadesk” work for you? Should it be spelled Megadesk, Mega-Desk, or MegaDesk? Would we all be happy if the Foster Brother just never appears again? Is an episode without Pam guaranteed to feel just a little bit empty? And who had the best St. Patrick’s Day costume?

Episode Recaps

The Office

The mockumentary-style sitcom chronicles a group of typical office employees working 9-5 at the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

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