January 15th, 2009
There are a lot of things to like about “Duel,” most of them related less to the episode itself (solid but unspectacular) and more to what it does to bring up some great memories from the past and to put to rest a storyline that seemed as if it was going to tear the office dynamic asunder in its resolution.
I don’t necessarily think that the episode was amazingly funny, with some sharp gags in the A-story somewhat undermined by a really quite uninteresting B-story, but what it did was establish a great deal of continuity and a deft hand for the show’s overall trajectory. Letting the love triangle between Andy, Dwight and Angela explode seemed like a really big risk to take, but with a little bit of finesse it has reached its worthwhile, if perhaps a bit overdue, conclusion.
Not going to have much to say about this one, other than that the central storyline of Andy and Dwight dueling for Angela’s love was the exact definition of this storyline’s strengths (great one-liners (Dwight’s childhood rules song cracked me up), strong comic set pieces (Crushing someone against a hedge is GENIUS) while also reminding us that it could have been something more at points. The storyline worked best when it was emotional, that it was in some way something bigger than just an affair or just Andy getting the wool pulled over his eyes. This episode smartly played this card here: there was actual fear over what they were doing to Andy’s psyche in the beginning, and while they eventually devolved into madness most of the rest of the office (Jim and Pam, in particular) were able to serve as a voice of reason as opposed to a voice of malice while others (See: Meredith) were able to buy into the sensationalism of it all.
The episode also worked well at callbacks to previous scenarios: Jen Celotta’s script deftly reminded us of both characters’ history in the office, with Andy’s super-quiet Prius able to sneak up on Dwight or the reveal of all of Dwight’s hidden weapons that he has in case of some type of an emergency (that montage was great when it first aired back in the third season finale, and this montage of Jim collecting the weapons was a brilliant payoff). I felt, though, that this was the only episode that really did this: in other instances it felt like them reverting Andy and Dwight back to their most stock characteristics in less nostalgic and more repetitive fashions. Here they both clicked, and when they returned to the office both realizing that Angela had lied to them and played them, it felt like the right conclusion: I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before, but the still dramatic but less explosive office environment works really well for this.
As for the episode’s B-plot, it felt like an excuse for them to get Michael out of the office, which I understand considering how powerful a force he often is on the show and could have distracted from the main storyline. However, it didn’t do anything for me: Michael spouts gibberish, Michael has no idea how to explain what he’s doing right because he has no idea…it just felt like we’ve been there before and in something more substantial. If we needed an excuse to get Michael out of the Office, I wish we could have at least seen him attempt something of some value. It’s not that it was unfunny, just wasteful and a sign that having a “star” who needs to be in every episode yet can derail a storyline very quickly due to his character’s personality is occasionally problematic, as awesome as Michael Scott can be.
The real news for The Office, as I’ve been reporting on Twitter, is more to do with its future: like how Michael is getting a new boss in the form of Idris Elba (best known as Stringer Bell from The Wire), or how there are still talks about NBC trying to put together a real Office spinoff as opposed to the fake one that has since evolved into Amy Poehler’s new sitcom about delusional public works employees. This brand of comedy, and the show’s brand as a whole, is of huge cache for the series, and one only hopes that that kind of momentum will serve them well as they head into the next portion of the season with Dwight and Andy out of the way.
- This episode was really dominated by Dwight more than Andy: his emotions were almost too real for the show to really delve into, and as a result we got more of Dwight’s internal perspective. This is always a smart strategy, especially in moments like his amazingly creepy staredown with Oscar over where he and Angela had had sex in the Office – so uncomfortable, but so, so awesome.
- This might have been the least we’ve seen Pam in an episode in a while: did she even have a talking head, or did I just blink and miss it? We also saw more Meredith than we usually do, although we also heard more about Meredith than I really wanted to. Yeesh.
- Michael did get one last parting shot: his awful, awful strategy of how to break the news to Andy. It was exactly what you’d expect Michael Scott to do, although to be honest he was less awkward about it than I really expected.