The Office – “Business Ethics”

“Business Ethics”

October 9th, 2008

Any show in a fifth season needs to be able to do two things: to best utilize its long-standing character relationships, and to integrate new elements into the storyline. What we have in “Business Ethics” is fantastic examples of these two principles, using both our (and Jim’s) extensive knowledge of Dwight’s personality gives us a great opportunity to indulge in one of the show’s best dynamics, and Holly continues to serve as a fantastic introduction to this “family”…or, workplace if you will.

It’s an episode that is all about the small little moments, the pieces of scenes as opposed to any broad setups. What these half-hour episodes do that the hour-longs which started last season didn’t was to really focus on a single event and its impact on the Office. We get a lot of the Office standards (including a seminar in the conference room), but it feels like the right combination of events following the episode’s ethical dilemma – and its a combination of events that make for an extremely memorable episode.

Full disclosure: at least 20% of my excitement over “Business Ethics” is over a single scene. As Jim, in our runner as he times the amount of “Time Theft” that Dwight commits in the span of a day, attempts to drive him into personal conversations by starting a discussion of Battlestar Galactica with Andy. It’s one of those scenes that was funny to anyone who hasn’t seen said Sci-Fi series, but for those of us downright addicted to it, I’m guessing we were in stitches. It was a really smartly written scene: for the non-fans, the Dumbledore Calrissian line is more than enough to illicit a few laughs. Meanwhile, for those of us who are, we couldn’t help but be right there with Dwight as Jim suggests that it’s nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the original series (which, for those who don’t know, is both a common topic when introducing the show to others and a major point of contention).

The entire runner with Jim and Dwight was very strong because it was so simple: it was about small observations, little discussions, and about jokes played not as some broad slapstick (Dwight peeing in the bottle was subtle compared to his last peeing incident, and his affair with Angela was played entirely with looks for our benefit). While it may seem a bit cheap to come down from the proposal with only a cold open, that choice makes sense: the office’s non-reaction is for the best: this narrative shouldn’t dominate the show but provide it with humour and heart when necessary. Here, it made for a hilarious cold open, from Dwight’s reminder that Pam isn’t a virgin to Michael’s eventual hug tackle (or tackle hug?); anything more than that would have held the episode back, especially considering that the show’s other storyline is more serial in nature.

Yes, Michael and Holly are the new Jim and Pam – they’re the relationship that is building, moving towards something quite compelling for Michael as a character. When we eventually learn that Holly is, like Michael, only trying to do what’s best in her own mind instead of what Corporate really wanted (Not that their minds think alike on issues like ethics, but just as a general life principle), the two are truly kindred spirits. And while listening to the original Olivia Newton John song would counteract their re-write of said Olivia Newton John song, the fact remains that there is a chemistry between them that has potential to extend beyond traditional lines.

What makes this relationship so compelling is that it is taking one we know (Michael vs. Authority) and totally turning it on its head by having Michael be on the other side of the coin in a weird way. Like when he turned around in “The Deposition” and sold Jan up the river, Michael is capable of understanding loyalty and seeing through his own delusions: here, while not entirely so, he does resist to turn “I told you so” into a big joke and instead realizes that Holly is playing his role here. She’s the one struggling in a conference room meeting, she’s the one who can’t get their attention, and all of a sudden he’s staring himself in the face.

What he does here is what you’d expect: he can’t help but let his desire to date Holly get in the way of his attempts to help Holly. And he’s not really understanding as it pertains to her views regarding Meredith’s ethical breach (a rather hilarious relationship with a paper salesman for discounts on paper and Outback Steakhouse gift certificates), but you can understand why he’d be so against her view of the workplace as just that: a workplace, and not Michael’s idealistic concept of family he so desperately attempts to maintain. Michael and Holly just ended up with opposing ideologies, and while Michael doesn’t take well to this (The hilarious scene with Michael refusing to pour Holly any coffee) he does eventually come around.

While the half hour episodes do centralize these two storylines over the greatness of the overall ensemble, there are some great moments here: Kevin changing Ryan’s nickname to “Hired Guy,” Creed referring to Jim as “The Tall Guy,” Andy taking Intro to Philosophy twice, Dwight’s not so subtle dig at Andy being cuckolded by a stronger man, or the end scene of everyone eating Meredith’s ethically questionable Steak. But it’s not really that surprising that Michael’s overlong explanation of chastity belts, or Dwight agreeing that he is not entirely ethical with his usual creepy smile into the camera.

But that’s the charm of a good episode of “The Office,” one where everyone can pick out a quotation, a scene, or a character and hold it up to some standard. That the episode spends more time with the major characters this early in the season might be giving the rest of the cast a limited opportunity, it seems to be working: that’s 2 for 2 for The Office.

Cultural Observations

  • I am a big fan of Ryan judging his relative success at his corporate job by having dated someone who looks like Joanna from Season Six of Survivor (Which only Dwight has seen). It’s just delightfully random.
  • I really hope that Jim has actually seen Battlestar Galactica, or else I’m going to have to set him straight before he keeps using the show’s name for the purpose of humour.
  • I greatly enjoy Dwight being characterized as “The Thief of Joy” – and the fact that he really didn’t seem to mind.
  • Also, I loved that Michael appeared to have ordered himself two lobsters, and that he also had something that looked awfully like a Bloomin’ Onion or some other appetizer. The man can eat.

2 Comments

Filed under The Office

2 responses to “The Office – “Business Ethics”

  1. Last night’s episode was a real classic in the making. And after Michael yelled everyone to the conference room, it dawned on me – as you’ve wrote – that Michael & Holly are the new Jim and Pam. And finally! We got a Meredith-centric episode!

  2. Pingback: Learnings Business Ethics | PRICENAME

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