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Office Watch: No More Forty-Degree Days

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Spoilers for last night’s The Office after the jump:

Idris Elba showed up on The Office as Michael Scott’s new overlord, Charles Minor. Though we were all bound to be disappointed that Stringer Bell didn’t castigate the Scranton branch for giving him too many 40-degree days, I thought Minor’s quiet all-business menace worked well, making those around him—even Jim—nervous enough to hang themselves. (Not sure which I liked better, Jim digging himself in a hole over his “fake” number two position or his sheepish explanation for the “two-way petting zoo” idea.) That is, when he didn’t mke them hot and bothered, like Kelly and a surprisingly aggressive Angela. 

But what really elevated the episode for me was the final showdown between Michael and David Wallace, culminating in Michael’s quitting. (That last bit had been rumored about for a while now, but I didn’t expect it so soon.) I know some fans don’t like it when The Office gets too straight-out dramatic, but it was entirely right here, because—as Michael said between the lines—it was the culmination of something building at least since he was forcibly parted from Holly. Steve Carell handled the scene brilliantly, showing us everything boiling over in Michael as he tried to keep it together behind his red-rimmed eyes.

And David Wallace’s attempt to make nice—offering to find the funds for Michael’s party—was the ultimate insult, though he didn’t seem to even realize it was one. It was also an entirely believable corporate response: like many managers, he’s more comfortable accommodating Michael on material things (the ice sculpture and figs) than on abstract principle (respect).

It makes sense, of course, that David would respond this way. As Pam explained when Michael was mimicking Charles, Michael gets juvenile when he’s angry. So David sees Michael as a child, and placates him the way he would a child. But however childish Michael may be, he doesn’t see himself that way, and in David’s office he had enough lucidity to see that he was being treated as less than adult (even if he didn’t have enough lucidity to see why David might see things that way). 

Michael’s weaknesses as a boss and employee, and his strengths—and yes, he does have strengths—have the same root: he takes his work very personally. He doesn’t know boundaries, he sees his staff as friends (or deep, deep enemies) and he expects his loyalty to be rewarded with loyalty and personal consideration. The concept “It’s just business” doesn’t mean anything to him.

This can be very bad: it is why he is basically a walking lawsuit, as his detailing Angela’s sexual history for Charles showed. It can be very good: it’s why he, unlike Dwight, can’t pull the trigger on the family paper company whose business they were sent to poach. But either way, it’s just him. And it is entirely antithetical to the culture of Dunder-Mifflin, and most companies in general. He is, finally, an employee; it is, finally, just business. And when he is forced to see that his employer sees him that way, it is shattering. 

It was in some ways a replay of Michael’s Canada trip, in which Wallace expected that a little corporate baksheesh would make up for what Michael saw as a hurtful disregard for his loyalty and personal feelings; but in fact it only added insult to insult. As soon as David offered up the party, I knew that would be the seed of Michael’s quitting, though I thought he would actually quit closer to the end of the season. So just how high can he fly?

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