Tuned In

Office Watch: Life Is a Highway

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Spoilers for this week’s Office coming up after the jump…

…although is it that much of a spoiler, really, to say that Michael and Holly broke up? It’s appropriate that much of this episode took place on a highway because—especially given that Amy Ryan was signed on as an Office guest star—you could see this coming like a slow-motion car crash. 

Here’s one important way that The Office is different from a sitcom like, say, Friends. That show wrote in numerous story arcs involving romances with guest stars. And the way it would usually end things—the typical sitcom way to write off a relationship with an interloper that has to end—is to make the new person suddenly become crazy, or reveal some hitherto-unseen flaw that dooms the relationship. (Even How I Met Your Mother, which took the Ted-Stella relationship more seriously, finally ended it by introducing the deus ex machina of Stella’s unresolved attachment to her babydaddy.) 

Michael and Holly, however, finally broke up not because of something we suddenly learned about her but because of things that we already knew about him. Yes, there was Holly’s transfer to Nashua after Corporate discovered the two were dating. But that long-distance-relationship crisis simply brought to the fore something that has doomed Michael’s short-distance relationships: his inability to deal with reality. When it comes to facing a challenge in a relationship (or anything else), Michael looks for the magic answer or the dramatic gesture rather than dealing with it like a grown-up. He wants to believe that he can will a solution into existence, just as he believes that he can stare at a highway exit and will a magical bed and breakfast to appear, complete with great bacon. And when it doesn’t, he doesn’t know what to do except deny and shut down. 

Which is why it’s so sad to see that, for all his problems dealing with reality, what a clear insight he has into his own problems, as when he begs Holly to reconsider: “I’m not strong enough! I’ll go back to Jan, and I hate Jan!” He’s aware enough to know this, but not equipped to do anything about it. 

That’s what made the episode touching—that, and Amy Ryan’s swan-song performance, as she sadly came to realize that things were not going to work with Michael. Thankfully, we had Darryl along for the ride, and Craig Robinson’s reactions this episode were brilliant, from his panicked cell-phone call to his attempt to teach Michael to sing the blues. 

The subplots didn’t do as much for me this week—the Cornell prank seemed too clever for Dwight, though the admissions-interview showdown was hilarious nonetheless. But a good send-off, assuming it is a send-off, for Holly. She’ll always be the human-resources manager of our hearts.