Friday, November 16, 2007

The Office: s.4 ep.8: "The Deposition" wri. Lester Lewis. 2007

As Alan Sepinwall wrote, this could very well be the last episode of the season. If that's the case, what an exit.

In a conversation we had a while back, my friend Dan made a claim: Dwight, Jim, and Michael, at root, want three separate things.

-Dwight wants power. He wants to be able to tell people what to do, to dictate their lives in order to optimize (what he sees as) efficiency and effectiveness. This is evident in his haggling over his title (Assistant Regional Manager/Assistant to the Regional Manager) and the dictatorial posture he affects when given even a small taste of authority.

-Jim wants to entertain, to make other people happy. His motives aren't entirely altruistic - in part, he's trying to save his brain from the lifeless job he has by working some creative angle - but Jim's actions work to make the place he is in a place that's fun for everybody (or at least the majority). See, e.g., Dunder-Mifflin Olympics, the betting episode, pranks with Pam, even his "that's what she said" moment at the end of the last episode.

-Michael is the most complicated, surprisingly. What he wants manifests itself as a push for authority, but it's rooted in his need to be liked. Michael wants his employees to be his friends, he wants to get glorious rounds of applause in return for any speech - no matter how pedestrian - he gives. What Michael wants is rarely achieved; his need to be liked is usually fulfilled, if at all, in mandates and facades, like the notes from Pam in this episode or his ridiculous attempt to out-outdoor Toby in the last. So when David Wallace, CFO of Dunder-Mifflin, calls Michael a nice guy, Michael is genuinely satisfied.

Michael didn't choose the company over Jan, and he didn't simply ignore the fact that he was passed over for her job; rather, he went with the most important person in the room that expressed affection for him. The moment was somber, but when Michael talked to David after the deposition, he only mentioned how he thought David was nice too. That is, on an emotional level, Michael didn't even register the fact that the company slapped him in the face. His stunned look after hearing David's words wasn't on account of being hurt, but being so genuinely awed to hear that David Wallace thinks he is a nice guy. "Wouldn't you say," the lawyer says to Michael, "that the the company has a history of mistreating its employees." His reply: "Absolutely not."

What's so impressive is that the show could have easily played this for laughs. It still would have been good writing, but its work would have been only to develop Michael the Buffoon. Instead - and The Office is the only comedy I know of operating in this space - "The Deposition" walked that perfect line between pathos and humor, earning the jokes that much more because the audience has been shown that they come from an authentic, uncomfortable place.

In other news:

-Outside of the Michael Scott plot, this was Mindy Kaling's episode. "I'll give you a hint: it's not my boyfriend, I think it's the guy over here." Her delivery, gestures and all, was note-perfect.

-Running with that: the writers had to love the trash/smash talk sesh: your mama's so fat she could eat the internet; you're ugly and I know it for a fact cause I got the evidence [1/2 beat] right there; were Jim's parents first-cousins that were also bad at ping pong?

I could go on, really: there wasn't a single sour note in this episode. Could go toe-to-toe with almost any episode from seasons 2 and 3 and come out with either a W or a draw.


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